Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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Hear Beyond Words. Understand Meaning

Happy last day of October 2022!
And Happy Halloween! (if you celebrate Halloween.)

Last week, we explored the meaning of feeling seen and heard. And the effects it has on organizational culture. You may check out the blog here: Seen and Heard – Organizational Culture – BLOG (akesatia.com)

This week, we will dive into an equally critical and related topic. Some might even say this is single-handedly the reason why many relationships flourish or wither.

You might have heard it said that: Listening is more than hearing words!
But what exactly does that mean?
You may also have heard that: In healthy organizational cultures, people listen to each other!
But again, what does that mean?

Let us endeavor on the fun adventure of decoding the art of listening!

Compliance or Belief

Gone are the days when what the boss says goes!

And the days when we believed that the leader knew it all are certainly behind us. – While this rhetoric and subliminal messages might have enabled leaders to complete tasks in the past, today, getting stuff done is not so easy.

Indeed, in a not-so-far-gone past, a leader could achieve success through brute force – their ability to enforce policy, firmly hold the line and appear infallible. But with our progressive understanding of the human psyche, we realized that all humans are imperfect. We all make mistakes, get tired, come short, or fall ill. And this applies to those who bear a leadership title as well!

Therefore, a leadership strategy that requires one to be ever-present – always there and always on is a failing strategy. Worse yet, a seemingly infallible and ever-present boss might prompt workers to comply out of fear, but they will struggle to get authentic buy-in.

Because getting authentic buy-in, requires belief, not mere compliance. And belief is enabled by sharing, partnering, and listening

Do we listen to others?

“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

This phrase might sound familiar to you because it is from a well-known movie: Rush Hour! And it originates from a scene where Detective Carter, played by Chris Tucker, raises his tone and volume while talking to Lee, played by Jackie Chan. – Unbeknownst to Carter, Lee could not understand Engish. And no amount of yelling would enable Lee to understand what Carter was saying. But Carter proceeded to yell to get his point across. – If you have watched the movie, perhaps this scene had you rolling on the floor in endless bouts of laughter. But it is also worth reflecting on how we might react in a similar circumstance.

Because, like Carter, many of us believe we are good communicators! And we sometimes view communication as a one-sided endeavor, wherein we are understood by merely uttering words. Without having to do much more to ensure our message is transmitted. – Much like a novice guitarist who plays with his back to the audience.  Yet believes by gracefully strumming his guitar, he can evoke a standard ovation without the hard work of connecting with the audience.

And a 2015 survey by Accenture confirmed our belief as professionals in our superior communication ability! The survey found that: 96% of global professionals consider themselves to be good listenershttps://newsroom.accenture.com/industries/global-media-industry-analyst-relations/accenture-research-finds-listening-more-difficult-in-todays-digital-workplace.htm

Perhaps, you find these survey results surprising. And I bet most of us would not say that nine out of every ten people we work with is a great listener! But before we start making a mental assessment of our coworkers’ skills to identify which of them are poor listeners, let us delve into what listening is all about.

Beyond Words

Indeed, there is more to listening than hearing words. – Listening is hearing beyond words, connecting to feelings, and deriving meaning. And the worthwhile goal of listening is understanding.

Marshall B. Rosenberg is a psychologist, mediator, author, and teacher who eloquently articulated the art of listening in his book: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. And one of the insights that Rosenberg unlocked is: listening hears beyond words, connects with feelings, and listens for needs.

Now, this is a high bar!

Listening, hearing, or both?

We tend to believe we are great listeners because we confuse listening with hearing. And observing two people engaged in a conversation can shed light on this!

A couple of years ago, a leader asked if I could join a meeting between him and his employee. He informed me that he was unhappy with the employee’s performance and wanted my perspective on what he should do. Notably, he also said that the employee needed to be fired because he was failing despite many attempts to improve his performance. It seemed like a desperate matter! And I agreed to join their conversation.

On the scheduled day, at the appointed time, I arrived at the leader’s office and took my seat at his table. A couple of minutes later, the employee joined us. The leader led the conversation by discussing the challenges the team had experienced because of the employee’s perceived underperformance. And when the employee expressed his perspective, the leader promptly opposed his viewpoint. And as the employee attempted to restate his opinion, the leader told him he was: being defensive and needed to receive feedback! 

This was the pattern of the discussion for 35 minutes! – At the end of the conversation, the room was heavy with the air of frustration. And the employee was exasperated and stormed out of the office! Then the leader looked at me and said: What just happened here? He needs to go!

Hearing and Caring

Now, upon reading this, you might think: Whoa! That was a terrible conversation! I would never have a conversation like that with someone! And if you feel that way, it might be helpful to ask yourself: How would I behave if I were in the leader or employee’s shoes?
Ironically, the root of the problem is a familiar one. – The leader 
assumed he already had all of the necessary information. And the employee did not feel understood and reacted.

And how often do we engage in conversations with one of these perspectives? – Convinced that we are sufficiently informed or believing the other person does not care about what we have to say??
Indeed, this is a common pitfall. And we can avoid it by caring. – Because caring is vital in listening. And when we care about the experiences and feelings of others, we want to understand them.

Sometimes we might view caring as an overly sensitive word and a sentiment to avoid in business. But in human interactions, caring, seeking to understand, and listening to others are vital. And at the core, organizations are a collection of humans striving for a goal. Therefore it is invaluable to hone our listening ability and help others to do the same.

Below are some prompts to enable this:


Do you have an upcoming conversation with a coworker?
Consider starting the conversation by asking them what they need.
And as they share, pay attention to what they are saying and how they are saying it.- Specifically, to the needs and feelings they are expressing.
Then restate what you heard them say. And ask them if you got it right.

This small gesture can be incredibly beneficial to organizational culture. Because it makes others feel heard and enables you to understand them.

For you and to you,



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