In one of my most memorable coaching scenarios, I had been called in to help a business owner and two of his direct reports negotiate some important decisions regarding company direction. The direct reports held equal positions (VPs) and equally comparable influence with the owner.
As the conversation unfolded, I began to notice that one of these VPs was actually paying little or no attention to the discussion. He was much more concerned with waiting for airtime to pitch his version of what needed to be done. It was as if he was actively competing for the attention of the business owner, and in doing so, was being disrespectful to both his boss and his colleague. In other words, it was more important that he hear himself speak (get his ego on stage) than actually listen to the sharing of ideas.
In a case like this, it is probably important not to call out the negative or disrespectful behavior in the meeting mainly because this interruption would also divert the progress of the discussion. But it is important to have a conversation with the business owner at a later time and point out the lack of active listening on the part of the VP.
In some situations, however, there may be an opportunity to call out the behavior more publicly. A good coach might pause for a moment and ask VP ‘A’ to restate or paraphrase what VP ‘B’ has just said. The tone could be one of, “Could you help us out here, and give a quick recap of where we are?” In this way, VP ‘A’ could save a little face perhaps by apologizing for a lapse in concentration, but the more often this behavior is pointed out, the less likely it will keep reoccurring.
This approach combines two of the key skills that I want to impart to my clients — one, that active listening is mandatory in organizations and, two, that asking strategic questions to keep the process on track is equally critical.