The science of friendship and the value of listening: B Segment, interview transcript

JB: It's a pleasure now to be joined by Oscar trimboli. Joining us all the way from Sydney. We appreciate the time. Thanks for joining us.

Oscar Trimboli  0:34  
Good I Jonathan. Looking forward to listening to your questions.

Jonathan Bastian  0:37  
I love that. Thank you. Speaking of listening, something that the both of us care deeply about? Why Why? Why have you been so fascinated by it and been talking about it for quite some time? Now? What Why is it of such importance to you?

Oscar Trimboli  0:54  
For me, I've been lucky that I grew up in a community where there was 23 different nationalities and my school. So I always was kind of listening in a really different way. But when I got into the workforce, I quickly realized this was actually an advantage or a superpower, something that other people didn't have, they tended to listen through one lens. And for me, in my work career, what I discovered is the cost of not listening is something we don't consider whether it's a customer that we don't win or an employee leaves before they want to, could be a project that's running over schedule or when you listen to any commission of inquiry, 

So the cost of not listening to me is huge. And I just wish more people understood that the root cause of confusion and chaos and conflict is often the absence of listening.

Jonathan Bastian  2:31  
You know, that phrase, the cost of not listening is really not one we think about is it? What why why does that not enter our consciousness? Do you think?

Oscar Trimboli  2:44  
I think that's true in the West. I don't think it's true in high context cultures in the east, I think places that value silence a little bit more. The cost of not listening isn't as obvious. But we're also speaking bias culture in the 20th century, there's so many courses to speak effectively speak with influence, speak with persuasion communication, is considered speaking. And yet, communication is 50% listening and 50% speaking. 

And I don't know about you, Jonathan, and the school you went to I didn't have a listening teacher, right. yet. Yet the teacher we remember the most other ones we know that listened not only to what we said to them, but what we really truly desired from our future. So that, for me that cost even shows up in in Google searches, people searching for speaking training, outnumber people searching for listening training by a factor of 10 to one. And that's the costs. And you know, we're just not even conscious that it's something we should be thinking about.//

Jonathan Bastian  3:55  
Yeah, you've looked a little bit at the science of listening. And I'd be curious to kind of to bring that into the conversation as well.

Oscar Trimboli  4:04  
We'll look at it from multiple perspectives have looked at it from a neuroscience perspective, but also from a linguistics perspective, as well, from a neuroscience perspective. I'd love everybody to know this about listening. If there's only one thing you take away from today's conversation, the 125:900 rule. I speak at 125 words a minute, but I can think at 900 words per minute. So the likelihood that the first thing that I say is actually what I mean. It's like 11%, you get better odds in a Casino in Las Vegas. So one of the first pieces of science you need to know is that whatever the person says immediately, is what they say immediately. We don't send an email straight away. We probably type that out, make some edits and then do a send. But when it comes to speaking, we assume that whatever the person says the very first time It's exactly what they mean. And the opposite is true for the listener when it comes to their neuroscience. Although the person speaking at 125 words per minute, the listener can listen at 400 words per minute. So we are programmed to be distracted. In fact, you can only listen continuously for 12 seconds, and then your mind will go somewhere else. So from the, from the brains point of view, if if we know these really simple basics, we can start to become aware of a couple of simple things to do. We had fun with the liquid linguistics and worked with our listening professors around the world and came up with a listening quiz where the four villains of listening emerge from the way people think they listen, versus the way they actually listen as well. So we had some fun, and we created the full villains of listening. And that was a three year research project that's still ongoing, over 8000 people have taken the quiz Now, one thing that's consistent, Jonathan, is that 1400 listeners have said, Hey, I'd love you to track my progress. And the "three things they always say, improves their listening, switching off their cell phone, drinking water every 30 minutes during an extended conversation and taking three deep breaths at the beginning of a conversation."

Jonathan Bastian  6:28  
Hmm,wow. Such such simple things, as you say that that really strikes me is particularly the water. But but maybe you can tell me why you think those those are effective?

Oscar Trimboli  6:38  
Well, the first thing to say is they're simple to say, and they're difficult to practice,

Jonathan Bastian  6:43  
right? True.

Oscar Trimboli  6:45  
For many of us, where there's a level of addiction to the cell phone to the laptop, to to the tablet to any form of electronic device that's distracting us. And it's no coincidence that the psychology and the Ph D research that was used for slot machines in Las Vegas to make sure people kept pressing the button on the machine endlessly. The same research is being used to make sure that you have your notifications on on your phone. So those little red dots seem really attractive, they make them even more attractive, and they put numbers around them to really suck you in. And I always say, as someone who spent 30 years in the technology industry, use the technology, don't let the technology use you. And the practicality. You know, for a lot of people, if I said to them, you know, switch off your phone, Jonathan, I sound like a drug dealer who just took away your drugs. Right? Right. And for most of us just switch your phone into airplane flight mode would be a great starting point. There is research to say that if your phone is on you're, you're still paying attention to it, when it's off your minds in a much more relaxed state. The breathing and the water are all connected to the biology of the human body, the mind, the brain, 5% of body mass, better consumes 26% of our blood sugars, Jonathan, and listening takes part in the modern part of the brain. It's called the prefrontal cortex, if you put your hand just on top of your skull, on your forehead, right there, just sitting behind that is the most modern part of the brain. And it's a very hungry process to listen because people don't know how to do it. They weren't taught at school. And they can probably speak about wine or cheese in a more complex, nuanced way than they can talk about their listening. The three deep breaths just sends a signal to the part of the brain and the body known as the parasympathetic nervous system. It's that part of your body that says everything's okay, you can relax. One of the things that are common myths around listening is it's your job as the listener to make sense of what they're saying. The dirty little secret of listening is to be potent and powerful as a listener. Your job is just to help the speaker make sense of what they're thinking.

Jonathan Bastian  9:23  
That last part, I think, is really important. Because as as a listener, we think oh, that there needs to be the perfect retort. There needs to be the response but but what you said there strikes me as a much different way of thinking about this, which is to support the speaker to help them express exactly what you said exactly what what what they mean by what they're speaking. What can you say a little bit more about that?

Oscar Trimboli  9:49  
For many of us, we're addicted to that process of jumping in and interrupting were addicted to the process of fixing and We we want to contribute to the dialogue. One thing when I work with my clients around this is I often say to them, if it's a one on one dialogue you're having with somebody, sometimes, the only question you need to ask at the beginning of the conversation is, how would you like me to listen? Now, some people say in that moment, they're quite shocked. Because the people they're speaking to simply say, look, I just want, I just want you to listen, and I'm just trying to process something. I don't think there's an easy answer. If there is I probably would have come up with it. But just just hear me out. Sometimes people say, Yeah, I want to evaluate, I want to look at alternatives, I want to come up with solutions. But it helps you notice where you're listening is that too many of us are listening from our side of our brain, rather than from the other side, listening from where they're coming from. So again, it comes back to that simple 125 900 rule. Jonathan, we mentioned earlier on. Once you are comfortable knowing your position in the conversation, you can play a really powerful role to help them express exactly what they mean rather than what they say. And you know, when it's happened, and Jonathan, you've probably seen this happen yourself. If you just take a moment longer, and they go into a five minute tirade about some particular issue. They'll feel like they're completely exhausted, a really powerful, potent question to ask them at that point is simply tell me more about that. And often, they'll take in a deep breath, you'll notice their shoulders go back, their spine becomes erect. And they'll use this phrase, while sighing they'll go. Well, actually, Jonathan, now that I've thought about it, what's more important is we talk about this, or they'll say, now that I've thought about it, could we just spend a little bit more time over here exploring it. And then listening becomes really light for you as the listener, but it becomes really powerful for them as the speaker,

Jonathan Bastian  12:15  
I appreciate that. I'm putting I'm making a few notes here on my own on the side to pick up some tips. I love this. I want to I want to jump to the question of the four villains in listening. This is something that you referenced a bit earlier in our conversation, and it's something that you've been working on through through studying this. So So what are the four villains?

Oscar Trimboli  12:39  
So the folk villains came about when I consistently heard people in my workshops, people that I'd worked with, say to me, Oscar, men and women listen differently. And I spent a lot of time going through the research. There's research that's been done in MRI machines about looking at brain imaging, and how the female brain processes in multiple parts of the mind, as opposed to the male part of the brain, which focuses on a really narrow part of the brain, which won't surprise anyone is problem solving. So what I speculate is, and what they always say, to me is a women listen to feel when men listen to fix. And this made me curious, and I thought, Well, I'm not always like that, and great female leaders have interacted with I'm always like that. Let me start a research. And we started by researching the barriers, what are the things that are getting in people's way when it comes to listening? So we researched 1000 people about what gets in their way. And we also research a completely different 1000 people. And we asked them what really frustrates them when other people don't listen. And our researchers came together with four archetypes; four listening villains, the four things that most consistently got in the way based on the research, because people think they're great listeners, but they can't describe what they do when they are listening well, yet, when it comes to listening poorly, everybody can describe it very easily that the villains came to life. And what we noticed the four villains were the dramatic listener, the interrupting listener, the last listener, and the shrewd listener. The dramatic listener loves to listen to your story because it gives them a stage to tell this. I'm really struggling with my boss right now, Jonathan, and you jump in and say, You think you've got problems with your boss, I'll tell you that mine was right. So this is a dramatic listener and what they value is connection. They move from empathy to sympathy really quickly in a conversation. So it's the dark side of being too connected through a story. It's, it's it's okay to tell a story, but it's when it's appropriate. And people who leave a conversation with the dramatic listener just say, again, it's always been about them. The interrupting the listener is the quiz show contestant that hits that buzzer before the host has finished asking a question and they just answered the wrong question. So they value time or they're very productivity orientated. And their mind is going really quickly. And they're going, I can pattern match, I can tell where we're going. And all of a sudden, I realized they aren't actually answering the right question. Unfortunately, for the interrupting listener, in only 1/3 of cases, will the speaker tell you, you've interrupted them in two thirds of cases that will just let you continue and disconnect from the conversation. It's interesting, it's a, that's a good example of the cost of not listening. The last listener is distracted by internal and external distractions, they may be distracted right now, you may be thinking about what you want to have breakfast or lunch, you could be thinking about what kind of chores you need to do for the weekend, you could be thinking about a holiday that you wish you could have, and you're drifting away, because you can only listen continuously for 12 seconds before you need to reset. But that distract. The last listener is also distracted by external things, their phone, the coffee machine in a coffee shop or another conversation, and they look vague to the speaker, their eye contact is not always where it should be. And then finally, the shrewd listener. The listener is disproportionately represented in the following professions, the medical profession, any industry that takes a brief accountants or lawyers, or sales people, anybody who has problem solving at the primary orientation of where they say they value. So if you are seeing the closed captioning, for a shrewd listener, they are listening incredibly intently, in fact that they're brilliant fake listeners, they nod, they give great.

But in their mind, they're going oh my goodness, this is such a basic problem. I can't believe I studied 11 years at university and did a masters and a PhD. And we're still dealing with these basic problems. Or we should hurry up because I can tell you three other problems you haven't thought about. And they are drifting away, trying to get into problem solving mode. And for me, I'm a shrewd listener professionally, I'm a shrewd listener at home. And I'm a lost listener. Sorry, pursued listener at work and lost at home. So listening is situational. It's relational, and it's contextual. You'll listen differently to people, you'll listen differently to a police officer than your will to a school principal, for example. Yeah, I

Jonathan Bastian  18:04  
think that last point, it's pretty fascinating that we can embody any of those, those four villains or archetypes, like you just said, depending on the context, depending on the situation, so we're kind of malleable listeners too, aren't we?

Oscar Trimboli  18:18  
Well, we're humans. And we're amazing, creative, flexible instruments, you know, for me, my brother in law's visit, right? Really regularly on a weekend. And there's always this religious debate, Jonathan, and they get into this religion so much. And I just disconnect because it's the religion of Canon cameras versus Nikon cameras, and neither, will suceed Nobody will admit that their camera could be actually better at some things than others. And I just disconnect, I just drift away. It's like I occasionally they say to me, what do you think Oscar and I said, I use my phone as a camera. I don't think I'm qualified to be part of this conversation. So that that's where it shows up to. 

But you know, it also shows up in paterns. So I remember three years ago, I was speaking to somebody in Chicago, and they were saying to me, it was it was October and they said, Well, we've got this grumpy uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner, and he always messes it up. How do we listen to him because he goes on this really continuous regular tirade. And this is a really good example of relational listening. So I said, just ask him, when did he first form this opinion? The opinion was expressed as a political point of view. And they sent me an email in early December saying, I cannot believe what happened at a Thanksgiving dinner. We asked. I asked the question when when did you first form this view? And the grumpy uncle basically said when I came back from Vietnam, everybody ignored me. Nobody paid me attention. Nobody respected the duty I undertook on behalf of this country to protect freedom. And the conversation for the rest of the night was completely different. There was a connection beyond belief. And they've stayed in touch and every Thanksgiving dinner now that grumpy uncle is now a valued member of that community and considered a wise elder, where people ask really important questions. But in the past, all they did was listen to how his expressing himself from a political point of view, rather than listen to what he actually meant, which was taking them back to the beginning of that story.

Jonathan Bastian  20:37  
And there is such a shift in empathy with that question, because because we love to shortchange people, we love to think, Oh, this was just a ridiculous thought. But that moment, right, there was real insight into who someone is. And that's something we're not often interested in looking at. So I just want to point that out. But there's something I think kind of extraordinary with that with that question.

Oscar Trimboli  21:04  
People say to me, Oscar, oh, this listening caper, it takes so much more time. And I always say, not as much time as the cost of this really ritualistic approach to praying at the altar of the same story God, you know, it with the grumpy uncle, they were, it couldn't have been very pleasant to come to thanksgiving for him, let alone them. But in that moment, where they just listened a little bit, that I listened a little bit differently, that that's transformed, not just Thanksgiving dinner, but it's also transformed the relationship with the uncle, with a nephew with the nephews, children, and the surrounding family. That for many of us, we are stuck in a set of railway lines that the rails are fixed. And Carl Rogers famously said that listening is the willingness to have your mind changed. 

That's the mindset that many of us don't turn up to in a conversation.

Jonathan Bastian  23:01  
Chatting with Oscar trimboli He's the author of deep listening impact beyond words. I really enjoyed listening to you here today and learning some new things. Thank you, Oscar for for sharing this with us. I appreciate it.

Oscar Trimboli  23:14  
Thanks for listening, Jonathan.