Never Kick A Kangaroo

A few years ago I wrote a book with the working title “Never Kick a Kangaroo”. The publisher said the title didn’t describe what the book was about and changed the title (unfortunately, I think) to “How To Get People To Do Things Your Way”.

Whatever the title, the concept was the same. Be sure your techniques and skills are better than those of your counterpart. If they aren’t, you won’t do well in any interaction or contest. Thus, the working title. If you ever get into any kind of contest with a kangaroo (very unlikely, of course) don’t pick kicking. You’ll lose!

In business we are constantly describing and defending ideas and territories. Clearly, the products and services we offer contribute greatly to our success, but there is another significant element to consider. That’s communicating. We’ll deal with a variety of communication elements in later pieces, but here I want to look at a specific aspect of good communication. That’s listening.

Because most of us focus more on talking than we do on listening, here are a few ideas to consider and practice in both business and pesonal situations.

When you listen – really listen. If you do that, you’ll get more information than the words alone convey. You’ll become aware of the tone of voice, the posture, the geatures, the facial expressions, etc. Every one of those sends a strong message if we pay attention. All of those factors contribute to understanding a message.

Here is an interesting example of that complete message. An orchestra conductor was looking to hire a pianist. Friends of the conductor told him of a talented young man they thought would be an excellent candidate. When he auditioned, he played flawlessly. But he wasn’t hired.

The candidate’s friends asked the conductor why he hadn’t selected the young man who had played the audition composition perfectly. The conductor responded this way. “Yes, he played the composition exactly as written, but we need someone who doesn’t just play the notes. We need someone who can play the music.”

Effective listening is like that. Don’t listen only to the words. Listen to the entire message. Here’s how.

Listen for Key Words. What is the speaker saying about his boundaries? Are there important dollar costs, time frames, percentages, deals, payment conditions and options? What is really important and necessary?

Listen for Key Ideas. What does the speaker really want. Must he win, or is a compromise acceptable?

Listen for Pressure Points. These are the emotional factors that make a person act or react. What is most important to the speaker? Is it success, avoiding failure, a promotion, or just holding on to a job?

If you demonstrate you are truly interested in the person behind the words and not the words alone, you’ll develop a strong personal relationship. That’s what makes business last.

Find those Pressure Points by asking questions and by giving gentle direction. The best questions, of course, are the open questions What?’ Why?’ and How?. The gentle directions include these lines: “Tell me more”, “For example”, and “What else should I know?”

You’ll collect additional information simply by keeping the other person talking. While you’re listening, be sure to send your own positive signals. Look ’em in the eye! Sit up straight. Lean forward when appropriate. Nod your head. Take notes.

When you use those signals to demonstrate you’re giving full attention, you’ll encourage a continuing flow of information. The more information you collect, the better able you’ll be to present your ideas in a way that will be seen as a contribution to the other person.

A final thought here. When the other person is talking, be sure you are actively listening. Don’t start thinking of what you’ll say as soon as you have a chance to talk. If you don’t pay close attention all the time, you’ll likely miss important information.

Use these skills and techniques, and you’ll be better prepared to continue the dialogue, make a sale, or provide a service. When you know more about a subject or situation than your counterpart does, you’ll be able to use that strength and information to make your own case.

Use your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses, and you’ll “Never Kick a Kangaroo”.


3 Responses to “Never Kick A Kangaroo”

  1. Jody Says:


    Thanks for reminding me that my opinion isn’t always the most important. If I listen I can track where the conversation is going.

    I love your analogy: “Never Kick A Kangaroo”.


  2. John Vautier Says:

    Great reminder of how important listening is. President Elect Barak Obama is a particularly strong listener. He helped close the deal in the final debate by clearly looking and listening to Senator McCain. His facial expressions and eye contact were engaging and strong. It was written that he ‘looked presidential’. He again demonstrated that last night with his interview on 60 Minutes.

    If you watch President Elect Obama, he begins many answers by looking down in a reflective pause, drawing out the word ‘looook….’ and then re-engaging the other person. While a technique, he comes across as genuine, extremely thoughtful and leaves you to believe that he’s taken the full measure of what’s just been said into his reply.

    Being a strong listener sets you apart and it helps you in every type of human engagement. On top of that, it’s a ‘learnable skill’. And the other reason….people like people who listen.


  3. Jack Shaw Says:

    Just a simple point. It appears you may need a proof reader. You wrote, “An orchestra conductor was looking to hire an pianist.” Shouldn’t that be, “a pianist?” 😉

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