A Fast Company article reviews Kevin Cashman’s recent book The Pause Principles, which highlights the power of meaningful conversations based on questioning (probing language) and listening (facilitating language), and the virtuous cycle created by using them in balance. The art of meaningful conversation means using questions to:

  • “Challenge yourself to look at solutions from a different point of view.
  • Stay in the state of curiosity longer to sort out where others are coming from.
  • Probe deeper into motivations, perspectives, and experiences.
  • Bring the “unspeakable” question to the surface.
  • Challenge the status quo to move the conversation to the next level.
  • Build on what is being said and take it one or two steps further.
  • Engage with people at a deeper level.”

Cashman claims that leaders do three things that get in the way of effective listening, the first of which is being too confident about their own answers and therefore not listening to others, even when they appear to be. He calls this a listening ‘black hole’.

The second pitfall is becoming impatient or bored when the conversation doesn’t reflect the leader’s point of view or isn’t particularly intellectually challenging.

The third is being too biased towards action, and uncomfortable with pausing, which may lead to rushing in to create certainty, diminish conflict and get problems solved.

I see all three of these behaviours as an indication of an inability to move out of ‘first position’, where all of our attention and focus is on our own interests, drives and needs. Good leaders have the ability to move their attention fluidly between first (it’s all about me), second (it’s all about you), and third positions (it’s all about us). Too much time in first gives the impression of egotism, self-centredness and insensitivity to others. As a leader, paying more attention to second and third positions helps manage the balance between speaking up and advocating your own position, versus managing the dynamics of the team and getting the best out of each individual.

Cashman promotes the value of authentic listening, that process of valuing and attending to different perspectives from diverse sources, as being at the heart and soul of empathy, collaboration and innovation.

For some people, particularly those with a clear preference for Extraversion, pausing to listen is a skill that needs to be better cultivated. A Harvard blog by Teresa Norton builds on the ‘why’ by providing some ‘how’ through the story of a CEO who was struggling to stop and listen. Using the metaphor of a ‘pause button’ helped the CEO who found it extremely difficult to just listen.


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