The Absence of Information might be the most Important Information

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The Absence of Information might be the most Important Information

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I’ve been encouraging and emphasizing the importance of mastering their listening and observing skills to leaders for decades. I often speak of the “lost art” of the powerful, open-ended question. Once asked, then we need to do something magical. Shut up and listen. 

But listen differently—

  • To what’s said;

  • To tone/intonation;

  • To body language; and

  • To the emotional field.

Becoming skilled at active listening. The Center for Creative Leadership defines active listening as having the follow 6-components—

  1. Paying attention;

  2. Withholding judgment;

  3. Reflecting;

  4. Clarifying;

  5. Summarizing; and

  6. Sharing.

Going even further and exploring deep listening. Showing empathy and really trying hard to see things from their perspective or point-of-view. I think this form of empathetic listening can be quite powerful if we truly “enter” other spaces.

Another part of deep listening is being and staying curious. This isn’t just for you, but it’s helping whoever you are communicating with exploring your feedback with a curious mindset as well.

And finally, bring emotional intelligence to bear as you communicate. Daniel Goleman defines five key elements to Emotional Intelligence—

  1. Self-awareness.

  2. Self-regulation.

  3. Motivation.

  4. Empathy.

  5. Social skills.

Think of all of this as expanding your communication channels much more broadly so that you’re gaining as much information as possible.

But there’s another channel that we can be listening to as part of broadening our listening skills. It’s the clear or empty channel.

Perhaps an example would be helpful?

You’re the Scrum Master of a team. The team is relatively new and still forming. They are struggling to meet their Sprint goals and deliver at the end of each sprint. What’s concerning to you is that several managers have expressed concern that the team lacks commitment and wants you to resort to more micro-management strategies to get things back in line.

What’s interesting is that you’ve seen the team struggle as well. But at no time is anyone on the team asking for help from each other. It’s as if each person is on an island working alone. And they’re happily working this way. So, the empty channel in this case is:

Clearly the team is struggling to deliver on their goals and commitments…

But nobody is asking for help.

Is that a problem? Is the lack of asking for help telling you something? And if so, what is it telling you? And, how could you increase the willingness to ask for help? To be more vulnerable?

And there’s even more detail, in addition—

Nobody asks for help in the daily Scrum

Nobody asks for help in Sprint Planning

And nobody is talking about this topic in the Retrospective

If you’re not paying attention to the empty channel, you’re not picking up on this information. My experience is that the empty channel is one of the richest forms of communication. That is IF we’re paying attention to it.

And as I’ve alluded to, observing the absence of things can be an incredibly useful channel. But it’s not just the words, particularly in agile contexts. For example, you’ll want to fine-tune your radar to notice the absence of things like— 

  • Joy

  • Safety

  • Collaboration

  • Transparency

  • Autonomy

  • Creative solutions

  • Pairing

  • Appreciations

  • Vulnerability

  • Energy

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Trust

So that you gain even more information about the context for an individual, team, or group.

And, from a cultural perspective, I spoke about the hidden nature of your organizational culture in this post.

Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Meaning, there is so much information at your disposal as a change-agent, leader, coach, or influencer.

The challenge is to train yourself to listen to as many channels as you can to glean the best possible information for each situation.

And don’t be too intimidated. Begin by expanding your channels a little bit and then just keep at it. Before long, you’ll be amazed by what you’ve been missing all along.

Stay agile my friends,



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