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Listening, a radical new skill for the world’s new problems

It is said that people at the turn of the last century thought they needed faster horses but that Henry Ford recognised the underlying problem: people needed faster, safer and cheaper transport.

Recent research suggests that, by 2020, 42 percent of core skills will have changed. It points to huge disruption in the way work is done and to the work itself. And it affects everyone in this global economy.

Obviously, knowing what new skills are required, and what our workforce is lacking, will help us navigate through disruption. But to get there, the initial question is not about skills, it’s about problems.

Some new skills will be required to solve old problems more effectively, like Ford’s Model T. But entirely new problems may need entirely new skills. How do we discover the new problems facing us and our customers? Primarily, though our ability to listen.

It sounds simple, but like most of us, most organisations are geared to tell, not to listen. 

Dan Rockwell, the Leadership Freak, wrote in a recent blog that we should ‘listen to ask questions’.

All to often, we are not listening, but waiting for an opportunity to speak, to present our ideas, to explain why everone else is wrong.

Asking questions is the way to keep a conversation going. It encourages the other person to talk about themselves. The person who asks us interesting questions is the person we are going to gravitate to again and again. Can we learn to be that person? And when we listen, we learn about the problems other people are struggling to solve. And that is where our competitive edge comes from. 

How do we learn to listen to our customers, the environment and each other?

What will have to change in us and in our organisations for us to become better listeners?

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

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