Dear CMO:

An exchange with Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agent reminded me of another great conversation agent, Dr. Steven Feinberg at ROI Dynamics, with whom I had the great opportunity of working some years back. We talked about corporate culture, specifically the art of listening. What an unpracticed art. Being a listener has become something like being a blacksmith at this point. You may know someone who can do it, but heck, nobody does that kind of thing anymore… we’ve advanced beyond the need for this … too damn busy… sorry, have to take this call… and answer these emails…

Steve’s point was animated by what he called The Ladder of Inference. An excellent metaphor. And I’m a metaphor guy. So this really worked. The Ladder of Inference, as Steve described it, goes like this:

You and the person you’re talking to quickly climb your respective ladders of inference, not really listening to what the other is saying, and hurl conclusions at each other.

In a better world, where people listen, it goes like this:

You and the person you’re talking to stay low on the Ladder of Inference, infer more, listen more, keep your respective ego’s in check, and have what used to be refered to as “a conversation.”

Learning organizations have conversations. Organizations that don’t learn quickly scale their ladders and hurl their conclusions at each other. Per Mike Wagner’s and Roger von Oech’s recent “thin slice” meme, you know this is happening when the person you’re talking to doesn’t actually make eye contact with you while you’re talking but, rather, is mentally rehearsing their next speech, only becoming re-engaged in the conversation when they realize they can butt back in.

Think about this the next time you’re in the board room debating a contentious topic. Watch those of both sides. Are they listening or are they preparing to hurl their next conclusion at you? Are you?


Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny