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Listen and learn

Dee Hock: Persuade—don’t compel—your troops

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in Leaders & Managers,Office Management,Workplace Communication

Dee Hock is founder and CEO emeritus of Visa International, now a $1.25 trillion global business. Yet he’s as modest as a bashful uncle.

Hock only loses his normally calm demeanor when he lambastes the traditional command-control hierarchical organization—with the tyrannical boss acting, well, bossy. For Hock, fast-track managers understand how to persuade gently, listen attentively and lead quietly but firmly. And they possess rock-solid integrity.

WS: Most managers realize they should listen better. What can they do to improve?

Hock: Think of the value in what you hear, not what you would like to say in reply. Most people think about how they’re going to reply. Then they miss things.

WS: Let’s say you listen and don’t like what you hear. Then what?

Hock: One of the tools I’ve always used is to look for commonality, not difference. Then I re-articulate their positions so that they see the common ground between us. To focus too soon on conflict merely exacerbates it.

WS: Can you give an example?

Hock: I might say, “I think what we’re all trying to say here is X.” I get people to agree, to see the good in each others’ points. I’ve learned that from the bitter experience of doing it wrong! Early on, I realized it saved time and helped me learn what I needed to know.

WS: Effective listeners aren’t really showy. They’re often quiet. Is there a risk that by listening well you might get overlooked for promotions?

Hock: If you fail to listen, you certainly won’t get very far. I’ve found that if you speak in a harsh, commanding tone, then employees will think you’re trying to compel them to do something. They may do it, but morale will be terrible. But if you use language that induces agreement rather than disagreement, they’ll respond better and you’ll be a more respected leader.

WS: Can you give an example of compelling versus inducing?

Hock: Compelling behavior is when you rely on a rule, regulation or order to get someone to do something. It’s tyranny. If I’m inducing behavior, I might say, “I don’t think I fully understand your point. Did you mean ... ?”

WS: Doesn’t all this listening and inducing take lots of extra time?

Hock: If you want to manage time well, I’ve found it’s best to spend 40 percent of your time managing yourself—your ethics, integrity and values. Manage your superiors for another 30 percent of the time, because if they don’t trust you, you’re stuck. Use the rest of your time to manage your peers, who can make your life a hell, and your employees.

WS: That seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t you spend the most time managing your employees?

Hock: Good managing doesn’t take that much time. Just listen and let them work. The hardest part to manage, by a country mile, is yourself. It’s so much easier to cut corners than to demonstrate character and integrity.

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