The Importance of Active Listening

Lorraine Margherita

Recently, analysts and media outlets – including our podcast – have talked a lot about the “Great Resignation” in the wake of the pandemic. And while those are worthy discussions, the truth is that workplaces and employee perceptions have been shifting for quite a while now.

Consultants and freelancers – those of us who have worked alongside a wide range of employers and business leaders over the course of decades – share unique insight into how the working world has changed, and what we can learn from those changes as we move further into this new, uncharted landscape we find ourselves in.

In this episode, Elisa sits down with Lorraine Margherita, an organizational consultant, speaker, and sought-after freelancer who has worked with thousands of managers and leaders over the years, to discuss her own professional journey, and what it’s taught her.

Lorraine was one of our speakers for Forward Virtual 2021; this year, we are back with a hybrid conference on agile leadership, live in Berlin and via your computer screen, 30 November – 2 December. Learn more. 

In this episode we talk about the essence of diverse teams, bringing everyone to the table to solve complex problems. Modern organizations should try to increase diversity, beyond acknowledging gender differences. Diversity can be about age, ethnicity, where you’re from, where you grew up, skills, experience, education, and much more. At Management 3.0, we have a practice named ‘The Diversity Index.’ This easy tool can help your team and organization acquire insight into how high its current diversity level is. A downloadable template is available on our website.

Do you want more? Lorraine also shared thoughts on Why Every Leader Benefits From Team Autonomy

Transcript

*Please note that the transcript has been automatically generated and proofread for mistakes. But remains in spoken English, and some syntax and grammar mistakes might remain.

Elisa Tuijnder: [00:00:00] Recently, analysts and media outlets, including our podcast have talked a lot about the great resignation in the wake of the pandemic. 

And while those are worthy discussions, the truth is that workplaces and employee perceptions have been shifting for quite a while now. Consultants and freelancers, those of us who have worked alongside a wide range of employers and business leaders over the course of decades, share unique insights into how the working world has changed and what we can learn from those changes. As we move further into this new uncharted landscape, we find ourselves in. 

Today, we sit down with an incredibly prolific consultant, someone who has worked with thousands of managers and leaders over the years. To discuss her own professional journey and what it’s taught her

Before we dive in, you are listening to the new season of the Happiness at work [00:01:00] podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness.

I’m your host, Elisa Tuijnder, happiness, enthusiast and Management. 3.0 team member. We may sound a little different, but we’re still sharing insights from industry experts, influencers, and thought leaders, but what it takes to be happy, motivated, and productive at work so that loving your job becomes the norm and not the exception.

We will be publishing every fortnight on Friday. So be sure to tune in and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Our guest today is Lorraine Margherita, an organizational consultant speaker, and sought after freelancer who describes herself as a catalyst for collective dynamics. Welcome, [00:02:00] Lorraine. 

Thanks for having me. Absolutely. Great. So you have a prolific career spending more than 25 years. And I want to talk to you about your professional experiences in just a moment, but here on the podcast, we always start with the same question.

What does happiness mean to you? 

Lorraine Margherita: It’s a great question, actually. And I like the way the answers are different every time. Obviously it’s a huge question. So my answer for myself would be about being free, to learn, being free, to do what I think I can do best and being free to achieve things.

So it doesn’t mean. Not being involved and not being aware of what’s going on around and just do my stuff. But it means that I have the freedom and the space to do things because I think I can do them or to try things because I think it’s worth it. And it’s gonna be better in the end for the project or for the company or for the client.

So that’s a huge part of [00:03:00] happiness at work for me is being free to do things and try things. And also with the intention to make a difference. At the end, you wanna make a difference in the project or in the life of people you work with. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Absolutely. Yeah. Freedom is very high on my list of things that make me happy as well.

So yeah, you’ve worked as a consultant and a freelancer for a wide range of companies as far back as the late nineties. So I’d love to hear how you think companies and employers in general have changed over the course of your career. Have you seen any notable shifts in culture, values and perspectives?

So pick your brain about. 

Lorraine Margherita: Again, it’s a huge question. It would be a huge surprise. If I said I don’t see many difference with what the, corporate world was at the end of the 1990s. So obviously many things have changed around us and in corporations. And the one thing I thought about when I was getting ready for our conversation about the cultural point of view was [00:04:00] I realized that this intention to.

Get people happier. So we don’t necessarily talk always about being happier or happiness being part of the job of the employer. And yet we all focus on what it’s like to be at work. What it’s like to be in a project where it’s like to connect with colleagues or managers or leaders. And one major shift.

I think I’ve seen in the last 20 years is that the responsibility that is given to people to make them happier in what they do has changed tremendously. And I think the nature of that responsibility also has changed. I would say that before if a company was giving more freedom to people to make decisions, including important decisions, to be part of the decision process and to have an impact on the strategy of the company.

I think it was more with a paternalist [00:05:00] view, I would say of, I’m going to show you the way so that you can do your thing. And I think this is changing drastically and obviously the pandemic and the situation of what it’s like to go to work or to be at work or not to be in the office precisely has changed that because it means that we can listen more to what people have to say, even if they’re not part of the executive team, even if they’re younger, even if they don’t have many degrees, but the fact that they are in touch with the client, for example, or that they have different way of seeing things or that they have different experiences, that we’re not the ones that.

Add today has more value. So I think there is a major shift culturally, to let more people be part of the decision process. 

Elisa Tuijnder: So you think everybody has a lot more agency, like we always say as well, Management is too important to leave up to just the managers as well. 

Lorraine Margherita: Yeah. [00:06:00] And I think the, I guess if you had asked someone in a company 50 years ago, I’m pretty certain that they would’ve answered.

Yes. We wanna be partof some of the decisions and we have something to say the difference is. No one else. There were probably not, nobody was listening that question. Yeah. Nobody was really thinking maybe I should ask that guy, working in a plant what he thinks about the way we handle this or that, because he was working in a plant and that was his job.

And that was the only thing we were asking that person. We, if we had asked about, I don’t know what you can do in, in, in the work area, what you can do with other colleagues, other departments clients products, Prices. I don’t know. They would’ve had many ideas. I’m sure, but it was just not in.

I don’t know, culture, the culture, absolutely. To wonder what they had in mind. 

Elisa Tuijnder: No that’s great to hear. And I do see [00:07:00] that shift as well. And I think it’s a very valuable shift because everybody has a very valuable opinions and see sometimes things we need to think with all these complex problems that we are faced today.

We need to think outside of the box and we can only do that. Collective hive mind almost and surprising things will come out. If everybody has that agency, 

Lorraine Margherita: I was just going to add that what you’re describing takes different points of views. I guess if you wanna have different points of, you need to have different people.

And sometimes we still have that culture or of if you’re a marketing person and you’re facing a marketing issue, you’re going to ask marketing colleagues and I take marketing. I could take any, engineering, whatever. And so this idea. Asking someone who doesn’t look like you, who doesn’t have the same job and the same responsibility is probably not that common.

And if you, again, if you talk about that, I guess many people might say, oh [00:08:00] yeah, of course. And then if you look into the meeting invitations you, I guess you, you probably a CEO is the same kinds of people being asked to solve a problem. Or to be part of a decision. Yeah, absolutely 

Elisa Tuijnder: diversity, not just in, ethnicity and all these kind of, and then gender, but also in, in job roles and is very important to see these these different perspectives.

So obviously this agency leads to more employee happiness and satisfaction. But do you. Also see that there is more of a narrative around this, our employees and leaders, employers, and leaders, more talking about this as well in companies especially obviously the last year with the pandemic, the great resignation, et cetera.

Do you really see a shift there of people talking more about this being essential to the workplace and to retaining employees as well? 

Lorraine Margherita: I definitely hear a lot of talk about it, a lot of questions and actualIy I guess, a lot more [00:09:00] questions than answers actually. And so I keep asking people about the way it’s going for them at work at the moment, and obviously which is not a surprise.

Most of the answers I get are. We spent two or three days away from the office and two or three days in the office. And so once you’ve said that, it’s how do you work with those people when they’re not necessarily in the same room? And then I hear all kinds of stories where people have not been in the same room for several months, sometimes.

So they, they interact every week. Probably even every day and yet it’s from far away. So they do see that it changes things. I’m not quite sure that it’s, it is obvious, but I’m not quite sure that it’s handled or it’s completely under control. And I think it, it it reflects how, as we, we were saying earlier, How the [00:10:00] notion of being satisfied or happy at work can be different from one person to the other.

So I think that companies are in a situation where especially large companies with, many offices and many employees or in a situation where they have to think about what it actually means to be satisfied at work. And again, it’s not necessarily what the people who founded the company or the people who lead the company believe it is.

So they have to, first of all, listen, and try to take into account and I’m sure they’re willing to do that. And yet the way to do it is not super clear. 

Elisa Tuijnder: This it’s tailoring it on individual preferences as well. Not everybody wants to work at home, but some people only want to work exactly at home and listening to those different voices and finding a middle ground so everybody can be happy and sometimes tailoring employee satisfaction.

Lorraine Margherita: Absolutely. I think [00:11:00] the changes we see in the way we work. Has accelerated with the pandemic and the fact that not everyone is at work every single day as we, as most companies used to do. And yet I think there will be more changes because I guess that for each company, they will eventually find their way of dealing with that situation.

So maybe some companies will ask people to be in the office more. Some of them have already asked people to come back to the office every day. Some will. Go the opposite way and say, we don’t even have an office anymore. We just sold it last week. And now you can work from everywhere, anywhere in the world.

And there is no good or bad answer. It’s just what that company feels like doing and what works for most people in the company. And for every cultural adjustment, I think there will be changes in the workforce as well. Some people might not be happy with what is decided. Some people might be super happy and super [00:12:00] satisfied.

And so I guess it will change. A lot of connections and ways of working in companies needs to 

Elisa Tuijnder: align with their multi company culture as well and absolutely with the preferences of what their workforce is at the moment. So yeah, we’ve been talking a little bit about, all the consultancy work that you do and that you’ve worked for a number of companies for a long time, but actually for our listeners who may not be familiar with your work, could you give us a sense on the kind of things you consult on with employers and how you try and help.

Lorraine Margherita: I often say that my work is removing barriers between decision and action. And for me, it’s a way to say that. I bring together, those who are involved in a situation or a plan, it can be a performance plan. It can be a strategic plan. It can be any plan where you have more than one team or even one team actually, and bring them [00:13:00] together to decide what they want to do, how they want to do it.

And the fact that we move barriers between decision and action is reflected by the involvement of those people in the very beginning of the decision that will be made. And if you do that, there is no difference between making the decision and implementing it. So if you involve people as at the early stages of the plan, With the framework there, not everyone is going to decide everything but if you get them involved in the process, you don’t even need to ask them to do what was decided because it was their decision and they’re actually already doing it before you. 

Elisa Tuijnder: And it’s not a shock. It’s not a surprise as well, which often is no big problem with change for employees.

It comes outta nowhere. . Absolutely giving people some agency again in there. Some yeah, some involvement. Makes a big difference, 

Lorraine Margherita: I would say so. Yeah. So I work with [00:14:00] teams that maybe sometimes the smaller ones oftentimes are leadership teams, obviously. And but I can also work with teams in, in in a unit, in a country.

And I work also with Management communities. So with the intention of really spreading fast, what was worked on what was decided in the community. Yeah, that’s 

Elisa Tuijnder: great. That sounds like really interesting. And it takes you to all these interesting companies. So you’re in a good position to talk to us about cultural changes and things that going on.

Lorraine Margherita: Yeah. And it involves also the notion of working on the decision making, making processes, and so on the governance that they want to. To make decisions at a better level. Oftentimes we find companies where decisions are either made at a very high level.

So something that doesn’t really need it or not exact, or too many people involved in the decision. And [00:15:00] so they lack the speed. Or the accuracy that they actually need to face all the challenges that they’re facing now. And they’re, they have so many challenges and everything’s going so fast now that they really can’t spend too much time or having, or have too many people involved in making a decision.

Yeah. So we work a lot on that and get inspiration from different new models of governance. 

Elisa Tuijnder: 

That part is actually really interesting. And I do wanna expand a little bit further on that, because you talk about removing barriers between decisions and actions and bringing colleagues together and giving them early on in the process or giving them a say.

And you also emphasize like the value of. Actively listening to employees. But we’ve just been saying as well that, there’s so many things that have to be done fast. So how do you, how could you expand a little bit, how do you respect everybody’s ideas and feedback while not making things too convoluted and too complicated [00:16:00] so that the decision making process takes a year because we’re in a very fast pacing face environment.

Lorraine Margherita: Yeah. It’s interesting. Basically the most direct answer to your question would be. To start with a framework where, you know, where decisions have to be made and what kind of profiles, what kind of roles you need to make those decisions. And so if it’s clear, for everyone or for a team or for a different level in the hierarchy where the decision is supposed to be made, then they can be made super quickly.

So it’s not a magic wand. Obviously decisions remain difficult to make some decisions are very difficult to make some decisions might not go as fast as the company would like, but still, if the framework is clear for everyone it’s shared, then it’s it’s much more efficient. And then in your question, there is the listening part.

So the listening part. Doesn’t mean [00:17:00] listening to every single person and say, okay, so if that’s what you think, then we’ll take that into account. And then, next person, same thing. And so on with hundreds of people, it’s more emphasizing what it means to listen. And so to be able to say that when you listen, it’s not with the agenda of when.

You’re going to speak once. It’s very concrete. Actually it happens in a conversation. It happens, with two people, 10 people, 200 people. But the notion is that if you listen, it means that you do not wait for the moment. When you can say what you want to say, you listen without any judgment, without any opinion.

In a way about what is being said, and you just allow the person or the group or the team to say what they have to say freely. [00:18:00] So we talk a lot about psychological safety these days, and it’s definitely a condition for that. Absolutely. Yeah. So it makes the conversations much better, which in itself relates to what we’re saying about happiness and satisfaction at work.

It’s always nicer to have the conversation with the pace that you tend to. When I use sometimes the talking stick in a conversation when people listen to each other, the pace of the conversation slows down because you don’t need to rush into. I’m gonna use the very first, second of silence to say what I have to say.

You, you get more into listening, what, to, what is going on and to sometimes not say what you were thinking about, because the conversation is going into a place where you don’t need to. And in the end, going back to the notion of being fast and efficient, if you take time to listen, To the thinking about the decision that needs to be made.[00:19:00] 

When you get into the solution phase, they are much better and come much faster if the listening phase was better. And I say that both in terms of a conversation that can last 20 minutes with two people involved. But if you use that for an entire project, It’s also true. You can have an entire project with the listening phase.

Sometimes we talk about an audit or diagnostic, especially in consulting. So if you take time to actually set up. What is the context? What, what is going on? What is the actual question that we’re trying to answer? Why, what is the decision we need? Yes. And I see that, sometimes I work with clients and it’s a privilege when it happens.

Actually I help clients with tools, collaborative practices, and then they realize that if you had five people involved in the decision, those five people. Did not really understand the same situation or the same [00:20:00] problem. So they were actually answering different questions. So if you imagine at the scale of an entire project, if they agree early on, on what they are talking about what they’re trying to achieve then when they move on to, okay. So how do we do this? They’re gonna be much faster and much better actually. Yeah. I think a 

Elisa Tuijnder: lot of the times people skip that phase. We need to do something, but why are we doing this? And then what’s the goal about this.

Exactly. And not everybody being very clear. 

Lorraine Margherita: It sounds simple. It is not simple at all. It’s the saying, it sounds simple doing it is not that simple. And yet I think it can really, it’s this notion of losing time at the beginning to actually be much faster when things accelerate and happen.

Elisa Tuijnder: One of the things we are talking about is the essence of diverse teams. Bringing [00:21:00] everyone to the table to solve complex problems at Management 3.0, we have a practice named the diversity index. Modern organizations should try to increase diversity beyond technology and gender differences. Diversity can be about age, ethnicity, where you’re from, where 

you grew up. Skills experience education and so much more. This easy tool can help your team and organization acquire insights into how high the current diversity level is. A downloadable template is available on our website. For more information, go to management30.com/practice.

Yeah I’m really intrigued by this notion. 

So I wanna ask you a follow up question. Is it because obviously you go often come back in, come in when there’s a project, when there’s, not [00:22:00] business as usual, do you think when it’s business as usual, should companies also be more actively listening, having these feedback, having this understanding and it should that be, should things not, never be a surprise basically when you come in and all of a sudden.

There’s all these other different opinions, actually, that shouldn’t be surprised for the company. I would say if in an ideal world, 

Lorraine Margherita: My, my first answer would be. What I do when I come in and as you said, I come in because something new is starting or something has to be fixed or changed. And so it’s a specific moment in the life of the project or the company or the team that being said, when I do what I was describing with my clients, it’s also a way, and I sometimes do it emphasize it.

I do it in a way. Where they actually learn and practice doing it. So they do it with me for the first time, and then I can train them or I can show them how it works [00:23:00] and that the intention is that they will not only answer the question that they have to deal with when I walk in, but also in the process of doing with that question to learn how to answer. So the behavior part and the leadership style Management style is also part of what we do. We do not just answer a question. We also learn how to answer further questions. And so that would be my first answer about the surprise. I’m not sure. I didn’t see it that way. I think. If you are in a corporation these days, I don’t think you can live a week without having many surprises.

Okay. , I guess maybe again, it’s a matter of practicing just like gymnastics or music, practicing, so that you don’t have to think too much about how you do things. And you learn the way that will help you for future surprises. [00:24:00] Yeah. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Now. Yes. Yeah. I think continuous feedback is, and actively listening is a very important step that we often forget especially in larger corporations, but also in small teams.

Sometimes everybody just does their own thing and doesn’t know exactly what everybody else needs or wants or wise. We’ve been talking about all these help that you’ve been doing with other companies. Let’s reverse that for a second and see as a consultant and a freelancer, how has work satisfaction impacted your own career path?

Has happiness impacted the clients you choose to work with the roles you choose to take on, or has it influenced your decision to work as a freelancer and consultant fully in the first place? Or was it completely an accident that you rolled into this? 

Lorraine Margherita: Interesting. I would say that satisfaction at work.

So when I started as a young consultant, It was not [00:25:00] happiness that were always, definitely not something you would’ve read, if you opened a newspaper or a magazine about Management and that being said, Obviously, I think everyone is trying to find a way to be satisfied at work. And that’s why some people are so sad or so disappointed when they don’t find something interesting or challenging or they don’t see the impact or no one cares about what they do with it, which is probably the worst thing can happen to someone at work.

So it, it has definitely been a very important driver in my career. And I don’t think I could stay for long in a place or a job where I wouldn’t be interested anymore. So it doesn’t mean it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the employer. It can be. And that’s what happened. The first part of my career, I was for about 10 years in the telecoms industry either as a consultant or in in [00:26:00] the regulation part of the markets, because we were opening the markets to competition after a few years, that phase of discovery was over, not everything was perfect, but the notion of doing something that had never existed before was gone. And so I felt like it was time for me to do something else. It didn’t have anything to do with my employer. Or the people I was working with, or my managers who were at the time.

Great people by the way. Listening yeah. So work satisfaction again, it covers many different areas in ways. Yeah. So yes, it’s a different, it’s a very important driver for me. And to answer your question about being a freelancer. When I talk to people who are not freelancers when they hear freelancer, which in French, actually we say independent, you say you’re an independent.

So it tends to mean that you work on your own . [00:27:00] And actually, I often say that if you are a freelancer, there is no maybe there is in a corporation. I would say there is no one more connected than a freelancer in my work, especially I do work with people. First of all, I work with my client. I do not deliver things that, that would be in a book.

There is no catalog with, service, one service two service B. So I do work with them all along the way I create with them. I co-create the process. I work with partners depending on the types of jobs, the language, the country, the skills we need. so I don’t feel like I’m on my own.

And in a way, going back to your question, that’s what I like very much about being a freelancer. And that’s one of the ways I find satisfaction in my work. It’s the kind [00:28:00] of job I do, but it’s also that notion of having different clients all the time and different partners based on the projects I’m working.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, absolutely. 

You come and see diff lots of different people and your core team kind of changes on a regular basis, yeah. Yeah, no, that’s a great right. I’m happy. I’m happy to hear that. You’re also happy and challenged your work. It’s always good to hear that from other people, here on the podcast, we are always big fans of tangible practices. So things that our listeners can start implementing tomorrow. So what lessons can you offer employers and leaders out there who may be hoping to model some of the recommendations you just offered for companies and organizations throughout your career how they can implement that themselves?

Lorraine Margherita: So when I thought about. Was something that can be done at the individual level and then could be done at the collective [00:29:00] level, which is oftentimes how I work with my clients. And so what I thought about is something that you can do on your own, or you can do with other people. And it goes back to what we were saying about earlier about listening and that recommendation would be next time you have an issue a problem to solve a decision to make.

So if you do it alone, you just step back and pause and ask yourself a few questions, like questions about the context or about what you will see when you turn back in a few weeks or months or years. That’s something I’ve learned how to do. When I started, when I finish a project, I look at the notes. I was taking at the very beginning and it helps me measure the way we’ve done the way we’ve gone.

Sorry. And so when you think about when this project is over or when this decision is made, or that issue is solved, [00:30:00] What will I see that is different from now. And so it’s a way to, to ask different questions from the ones you’re used to. So if you do it on your own, you ask yourself a few questions and if you want to do it with someone else, it goes back to what we were saying earlier, involve people in the description of the situation, and maybe the problem solving people that you would not expect.

Do not go to your usual partners, do not go to people who have the same position. You have try to go to people who don’t have the knowledge you have. Don’t have the experience you have. And see, first of all, you have to explain the situation in a way that they get, which is very good practice. And it goes back to the notion of doing it on your own.

You have to explain something as if you’re person you’re talking to. Was five year old and then see their reactions, their [00:31:00] ideas and see how you can reframe your situation based on their reaction. So that would be my concrete recommendation for, 

Elisa Tuijnder: I really like that. Yeah. I’ve been, I’ve really enjoyed last couple years I’ve had the opportunities every now and again, work with a few interns and they can come with so many fresh ideas that have completely changed my opinion on something.

And yeah, being open to that is so important, but that. That applies to more than, working with an intern. It works in a whole range of scenarios. So that’s really great advice. And I really hope that people start taking that on board and I continue to give everybody in the company agency and give them a voice.

And that actually has been, that actually will be listened to as well, cuz that will help make everybody happier and organizations more productive as well, which is also. Lorraine, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve learned a [00:32:00] lot and I think your works very interesting and we really really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us.

And so thank you again. 

Lorraine Margherita: Thank you very much. And just like we said, in this conversation, actually sharing this with you was also my way of taking a moment to reflect on what I do and maybe to get into different questions that you asked, I have not thought about. So it was also a pleasure. 

Elisa Tuijnder: Thank you.

Fantastic. All. See you later, Lorraine. Bye.

Lorraine Margherita: Thank you. Bye. Thanks.

Elisa Tuijnder: You’ve been listening to the happiness at work podcast by Management 3.0, where we are getting serious about happiness. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And if you enjoy our shows, don’t be shy. Write us a review, share the happiness with your colleagues, family, your friends. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn under Management [00:33:00] 3.0.


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