I was inspired by Kit Cooper’s interview with Dennis Ross, one of the most skilled diplomats in the world who was appointed by President Obama to serve as the chief envoy for Iran.
“I tell people that work with me that one of the most important skills in negotiations is active listening. I believe in not always asking questions with the purpose of getting the other side to reveal things. There is immense, untapped benefit to getting a deep understanding of what drives them and you certainly build good will with such an approach. “Why is that issue important to you? I want to understand it the way you understand it. I don’t want to have a false impression. Explain to me why that matters so much to you. Where does it come from? Why does it create an imperative?” You can’t find the underlying sources of behavior and issues unless you ask questions in this way. When people see that I am curious by being an active listener, they get a message of respect from me. And of course you have the benefit of actually learning something.”
Mr. Ross’s actions and attitude are that of a cooperative leader. Cooperative leadership is more a state of mind than a position within a company or in politics. Leaders are uncomfortable with the status quo, and live uncertain, risk filled lives and yet have a sense of belonging to the human race. They are life long learners who often serve and contribute to others. Thus people who work for them or connect with them in everyday life are uplifted and feel free. A cooperative leader really values and trusts the interdependence of relationships. Active listening is a leading characteristic of a cooperative leader and crosses all job functions. I think executives who are cooperative leaders give their companies a tremendous competitive advantage since they are open to listening and learning so are less likely to be blind sided by surprise market developments, new technology or an emerging competitor.
BTW if you want to gain great insight into Dennis Ross, check out his book, Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.