The key habit that can place you in the top 1% of Sales professionals.
From our childhood, we are encouraged to speak. There are courses, competitions, and multiple books on speaking. None about listening. Yet, as we move through life we find listening to be one of the key ingredients of success. In life, business and sales.
Subhanjan Sarkar, Founder, Pitch.Link sat down with Steven Cash Nickerson to speak with him about his book, The Samurai Listener
Cash Nickerson is the Chairman of the Board and CEO at Akka Group North America. An entrepreneur, lawyer, philanthropist, and martial artist with a diverse background in law, business development, and finance, he has reached cross-industry experience from entrepreneurial startups to large law firms to large public Corporations. With experience in transportation and mobility, railroad, trucking, aerospace, and space he is known as an expert on leadership, employment, staffing, and workplace issues and opportunities. Cash is also the Founder and President of the David H. Nickerson Prostate Cancer Foundation. Cash is the author of six books, including ‘Listening as a Martial Art’ and a delightful travel book ‘A Texan in Tuscany’. He is an accomplished martial artist in several arts, including Karate, Brazilian Jiujitsu, and Systema. Read up for nuggets of inspiration to up your listening game.
As narrated by Cash Nickerson in an Interview with Subhanjan Sarkar, Founder Pitch.Link for the podcast Bits About Books. If you are interested in listening to the whole episode go to https://bit.ly/3wxGeSR. If you like it please subscribe to the show.
Cash Nickerson: Listening is a topic that I can talk about for hours. Ironically enough. I wrote the book because I had really questioned my own listening skills. And in 2014 I really, seriously started studying the subject. If you look in the workplace and you ask yourself who succeeds, who gets ahead? And you have to explain why the most technical people don’t run companies, you have to wonder. And listening seemed to me – as I studied the topic and looked back on 30-plus years of a career in many different areas and disciplines, soft skills were really what gave people the edge. And I read things that said, 85% of your success depends more on your soft skills than your technical skills. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to have technical skills. It just means there’s a real powerful unstudied side to the world and you run into various presumptions. And one of them is that you can’t teach those skills that people are either sort of born charismatic or they’re not.
The ones who are born charismatic take their technical skills really far in the workplace. And those who aren’t born charismatic end up in cubicles, crunching numbers and things like that. So listening to me was one of those soft skills and one that was teachable, learnable. Where you can get better at it. I decided to start with myself. And I wrote a book called Listening as a Martial Art, which was a series of essays I had written. People had two reactions to it. One reaction was, wow, that’s incredible. Thank you. And another reaction was, well, everybody knows those things. And so in The Samurai Listener, what I really tried to do is take it to the next level that provided actual exercises and actual dialogues and things to do, culminating in a sort of like a ‘90 day exercises to become a better listener’.
Martial Arts and the Art of Listening
I take a much broader view. When I thought about listening, I did use my experience in martial arts to help me, because there were many occasions, as I realized over the years of studying martial arts, where the top people seemed to know what was going to happen next. They knew what the other person was going to do. How did they know that? They were intensely sensing that person. I thought about listening and thought about martial arts. The consequences of not paying attention in martial arts, not knowing what’s going to happen, is that you get hit, and you get hurt. The consequences of not listening are very few. I mean, yeah, you know, you might have missed something. Yes. But our egos are strong enough to convince us that listening isn’t all that important. But in martial arts, the stakes are so high, you’re going to get hit with a stick, you’re going to get hit with a punch, you’re going to get slapped, you’re going to get submitted in a ground sport.
I took a look at the martial arts – one because I had an interest in them.
Two, because I thought sensing really could teach us a lot about listening. Why not look at something where people have to pay attention in a deep and profound way in order to be good at it.
Why have we stopped listening?
It’s a very good question. Some of it is tied up with egos, especially when you get into higher levels of organizations. It’s interesting, that as we get older, we become poorer listeners. One of my theories that I haven’t fully studied, but I’ve seen some studies on it, is that, for example, we think people’s memory goes down as they get older. And of course, there can be physiological issues. But most people who forget something never heard it in the first place. And so our ego and our filters are just constantly being built. But you watch a young kid, they hear, see, and feel everything. They’re very sensitive because they haven’t put up fences and walls in their world of things that just don’t matter. You can say some words and honestly, you can see it in the current dialogue that’s taking place with respect to racial issues in the United States. I talk about people having their shields up. If your shield is up, you’re not listening because you’re just not receptive to what someone says, whether it’s because of deeply rooted beliefs or whether your ego is just so strong. However you look at it, that’s a real problem with respect to listening. It requires behavioral change.
But changing your behavior, and behavioral change is a challenge. That’s why there are so many weight loss clinics, anti-smoking clinics, whatever. Because understanding is easy. Behavioral change is hard. And to become a better listener, it requires behavioral change, not just understanding.
What I did was try to break listening down into as many topics as I could. Are you PRESENT?
I just wanted to break listening down into bite-size segments and be able to talk meaningfully rather than just in general platitudes about a look, here are the elements. And if you’re missing any one of these elements, you’re degrading your ability to listen and understand. And from listening and understanding comes learning. So if you’re hard-headed and you want to learn, then don’t worry about listening. You’re not going to because you know it all.
People say, well, 90% of life is showing up. Okay. But it’s not. It’s important. In some ways, all these things are 100%. No. At first, I just had these. And then I thought the next step would be to explain each one of these things. What do I mean by that? What do I mean to be receptive? What do I mean by understanding? What do I mean by each of these things? And then you could create exercises to try and teach these elements of listening.
Studies about listening
Listening is an area that’s really understudied. You can take lots of classes on speaking. In fact, I think when I was in high school, there was like a course you could take on public speaking.
When it came to studying and reading about listening, you keep going back to this early study done many years ago which said all of the communication is nonverbal. I think ultimately the words you used in that study were as little as 7% of communication. Everything else, tone, body language. We’re way off the charts now. As I say in the book, it doesn’t matter what that exact number is, whether that was overstated or not. We know that it’s still high. It’s an unglamorous topic. It’s like trying to teach breathing, which is a very important skill.
Here’s what we do. In kindergarten, we play a game, and every culture seems to play this game where the teacher lines everyone up or puts them in a circle, and the teacher says something in the ear of one of the students, who then repeats it to the person to her left or right. And then at the completion of the circuit, whatever the circuit is, the final person who hears it says what they heard from the person that they got the message from, and it’s gobbledygook and does not compare to where things started. And we run that exercise and we say, wow, that’s really amazing. But then we don’t do anything about it. Yes, it’s really a funny phenomenon. It’s like, okay, well, we’re bad listeners. Okay, what’s next? Math? Okay, two plus two. It’s really kind of humorous, but the telephone game or Chinese Whisper or whatever you call it in your culture, it’s like, all right, well, we’re bad. We just accept it.
How does persistence help you to be a better listener?
It’s an important one because you can show up, you can be receptive, you can want to understand, and you can even be an active listener. But there can then just come a point in which you say, I get it. The unwillingness to persevere in a conversation is one of the enemies. And interestingly, some of the most incredible stuff comes at the end. Right. And depending upon the person with whom you’re speaking, I have one business associate in my life where they would talk and talk, but none of that was what they really meant. And at the end, they would mutter something under their breath, and that’s what they really meant. And if you study the people around you enough and use these techniques, you can learn how people really convey what they really, really care about. And everybody’s kind of different in that regard. So, if you lack persistence, you’re going to have trouble with that kind of person.
We’re talking as if conversations are one on one. But of course, many conversations are multiple people involved. And it may take introverts who just have a high IQ as extroverts time to open up.
It may take them a long time to contribute, but when they contribute, it can be invaluable. And so if you give up on a conversation, whether it’s one on one or a group, whether because of fatigue, whether because you feel like you get it, whether because you’re bored or very commonly you’re distracted. We all carry a thousand things in our heads at once. And that’s why one of the things that I recommend and it relates to persistence is before you go into a meeting or a conversation, things that are on your mind, you better write them down somewhere. Okay. And then set them aside and say, I’m going to come back to you. Then go into the conversation with a clean slate – as much as you can. It’s difficult. There are a lot of things that can affect persistence. It’s not just a matter of saying, I’m just going to try harder.
Tools and techniques
Take something like emotions. We all know volatile people who react in a sort of a volatile fashion oftentimes. To identify someone like that in your circle and have a conversation with them and look again and try and see what’s going to set them where they see they’re going to be set up and see if you can dial it back, see if you can bring them back, back to persistence.
If you study someone who you’re speaking with, when they look away, they’ve stopped listening. Watch for this. What do you do when somebody has stopped listening to you? You just stop talking and they’ll come back and you’ll notice. They look away and it gets quiet and they think, why is it quiet? And then they come back to you.
You know, I think one thing to do is to let people around you know that you are working on it and ask them to hold you accountable. I look at people who lose weight and they say the people who create accountability structures around them, especially letting other people know, sharing your weight with a friend, or whatever. Listening is the same way. I now have to be a better listener because people around me, if I’m not, say – aren’t you the guy that wrote the book about listening? I’m held accountable. I would say let people know it’s an area you want to work on and let them hold you accountable.
The next step? Read both his books on listening – “Listening as a Martial Art: Master Your Listening Skills for Success” and “The Samurai Listener”.