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Sifting as you listen

Posted November 20 2012

I've just been to a two-day conference, and done a LOT of listening and note taking. A couple of days later, a speaker at a Vistage business event asked us "who looks at course notes after a course or conference" and I discovered I was one of the very few who did.  Mind you, I do this only for courses I have been VERY interested in. However, I find looking up the key nuggets easy and quick to do because I record what I am hearing in a very specific way. 

There's nothing special about what I do, but then I read this in an article by Ram Charan in the Havard Business review:

'Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell, did this. Sitting down with a business unit leader presenting him with information about a $300 million dollar technical investment opportunity, Bossidy divided a sheet of paper about three-quarters across. On the larger left side of the paper, he scribbled detailed notes; on the smaller right side, he occasionally jotted down two or three words, capturing what he perceived to be the key insights and issues being brought to his attention. It was a simple technique that disciplined him to listen intently for the important content and focus follow-up questions on points that really mattered.'

I do something very similar, although I tend to use mind maps to record the detail and a separate map or section to record the nuggets.

I picked up a similar sifting technique for meetings by sitting next to a friend, Adrienne Greenwood (now one of the Vice Presidents of International Sailing Federation [ISAF]and previously CEO of New Zealand Yachting).  She divided her pages into halves. On the left went the formal detail, such as; Item no., Speakers name if relevent, Motion wordings, proposers and seconders, vote results.  On the right went key information from the debate, including positions taken by key players, important arguments, points of information. My ability to keep track of debates, stick to the point in the meeting itself and review my notes later as issues progressed politically was helped immeasurably by disciplining myself to use this tool.  It helped when correcting Minutes too.

The mechanics of how you sift information as you listen is up to you - what matters is that you train yourself to do it, in order to then, in Ram Charan's words

'Let the other person know that they were understood by probing, clarifying, or further shaping those thoughts. The benefits of this go beyond ensuring that you heard it right: first, the person on the other end of the conversation will be gratified that you are truly grasping the essence of their thoughts and ideas; second, this gratification will motivate and energize them to create more thoughts and solutions.'


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I have known Cathy for about 5 years. When I have asked for her professional advice, she has provided real insights into my own relationships. She is very wise and caring. She works intuitively using a variety of techniques. She is a very knowledgeable and experienced coach and is continually expanding her knowledge and putting it into practice.


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