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Listening - Maria Gotsch | Intangibles 012

By Steve Berg October 16, 2017

On This Episode:

Today we speak with Maria Gotsch. Maria is the President and CEO at the Partnership Fund for New York City. Prior to joining the Partnership Fund in 1999, Maria was a Managing Director at BT Wolfensohn (now part of Deutsche Bank), providing strategic and financial advice related to mergers, acquisitions, dispositions, joint ventures and the development of business strategies. Before starting with Wolfensohn, Maria worked at LaSalle Partners in the New York area and for Merrill Lynch Capital Markets in New York and London. Maria has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Wellesley College. She considers herself a fully recovered investment banker. During that time when Maria was a banker, she took a year off to study acting. There she learned some valuable lessons that were very relevant to listening.

Transcript:

Intro: This episode marks the start of season two. We have a great group of gas lined up for the next 10 episodes. I'd like to thank everyone who participated in season one and everyone who listened. If you like what you've heard, recommend us to a friend or leave a review on iTunes. And with that, let's get started.

 

Welcome to Intangibles, a podcast about the traits, behaviors, and qualities that entrepreneurs can cultivate to help be successful. This podcast is created by Antecedent Ventures, an enterprise-focused seed-stage venture firm in New York City. You can find us at www.antecedent.vc. I'm your host, Steve Berg. 

 

This season is brought to you by Dentons Venture Technology Group at dentonsventurebeyond.com. Operating as a boutique within the world's largest law firm, the venture technology group runs with hard-charging tech entrepreneurs to drive growth through strategic business, finance, and legal advice from Silicon Valley and New York to London, Berlin, Hong Kong, and beyond. Learn more at dentonsventurebeyond.com.

 

Today's topic is listening. This is an important quality not only for founders, but also for everyone who wants to be better at their job. I think of listening is an elbow grease skill, because while being a good listener is hard, it is also a conscious choice. Improving one's listening skills is something that anyone can do if they're willing to work at it. As I often do, I'm starting out with a quote on the topic. This one is from Larry King, who says, “I remind myself every morning, nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening.” 

 

The irony of today's episode is that I won't be in pure listen mode, is I am often while our guest gives the answer to my question. Instead, I'm going to be participating in the conversation a little bit more, albeit from the perspective of someone who's curious about the topic. Much more so than from the perspective of an expert on the subject. 

 

Maria Gotch is part of an organization called the Partnership Fund for New York City, which represents the city's business leadership and its largest private-sector employers. She is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership Fund for New York City, which is the investment arm of that organization. Maria has spearheaded the creation and operation of a number of the fund strategic initiatives, including Fintech Innovation Lab, New York Digital Health Accelerator, and NYCSeed, which is the seed financing for It and digital media companies. Maria is also a member of the boards of the New York Venture Capital Association and the Lang Fund and serves on the business advisory board for ProPublica.

 

Steve: Hello, Maria. Thanks very much for suggesting we do this and for coming on the podcast today. What did I leave out of your introduction? Anything?

 

Maria: A couple of things. Yeah. So the first is that the first half of my career, I was an investment banker. So I consider myself a fully recovered investment banker. And during that year, during that time when I was a banker, I took a year off to study acting. And we'll get back to that because there are some lessons that I learned there that were very relevant to listening. And then I guess in my official bio. So one thing I do want to highlight is that we have done a lot of stuff in life sciences and we think that that's a big industry for New York. And stay tuned on some things that have been announced, as well as some things that are going to be announced to support the growth of life sciences.

 

Steve: Alright. So my socks are already knocked off because I had no idea about the acting portion. Alright. Another thing before we begin, when we were talking about the Intangible podcast a couple of weeks back and you said I've been thinking about listening and I think we should do an episode about that. Of course, I agreed to it, but I was surprised because as people might have gathered from the intro, your job title is not Listening Coach. Although as I think about it, you probably are a professional listener. Let's start just for a second by talking about why you thought this topic was so important and what led you to want to spend your energy on this.

 

Maria: So there's a macro reason and a micro reason. At a macro level, I think that technology has speeded up the pace of what people think is communication. It offers different formats. You can post things on multiple kinds of social media, but I think the quality of the dialogue has actually diminished and that posting is not really communicating. It's a different thing, but it's not communicating. And so I think one thing that's been lost is the capacity to listen and the capacity to have a dialogue, which is two people talking and two people listening, not just sending things out into the ether. So I think it's worth having a conversation in light of how technology has changed, how we are communicating. 

 

And then at a micro level, I think listening is really one of the most important things that an entrepreneur can do. And I think it leads to a successful product, a successful team, and a successful company.

 

Steve: Yeah, particularly on the posting point that you're making. It seems like that's a proxy, right. That's a representation of either how we want to be or how we want to be perceived. And it's not really us putting out what we are and taking in what the other person on the other end of the communication is. 

 

Maria: And a like, is not listening. 

 

Steve: Yes. Like, is not listening. Well, I agree. I think it's certainly an important skill and deserves a thoughtful discussion, slowly dying art? Absolutely. And founders, I think, certainly could benefit from being better listeners. So in that sense, I'm happy to have a discussion with you particularly what's going on with startup founders and that thought process, that behavior process is what I want to explore. Let's go with the obvious first question, in your opinion, what is listening? Let's define it.

 

Maria: So listening is taking in the full communication that the other person is giving you. And this is where I'm going to rely on some things I learned in acting. Communication. 10% of communication are the actual words that you speak. 90% of communication is everything else that's going on. So you're not just listening to the words you're listening to, the words in the context of 90% of other things that are going on. And it starts before the person opens their mouth. It's the clothes they're wearing, the posture they have, the kind of eye contact they're making. How are they greeting you? And then when they open their mouth and they start to speak, there's a whole set of things you should pay attention to. The tone. Are they hesitating? Are they engaged with you? Are they looking at you or not looking at you? Are they distracted? And if you think about kind of what you get when an actor is on stage and they're very good, that's the kind of communication that you really want to get in or most of your dealings. But particularly when you are face to face with an important person, either a client or an employee, because it's being sensitive to that love of community that gives you the most information. 

 

Steve: And as the audience member in a performance, you want to be wrapped into that performance and noticing all those things.

 

Maria: That's right. And if you think about what you do when you walk into a play, you are not talking. You are sitting there and you are taking in everything you're taking in the words, the action, the whole set. And that is how the communication. And I think replicating a number of those kinds of things when you're actually in meetings with people and engage with people is what I would say gets you to the point of being a good listener. 

 

Steve: Right. And so if I follow up on what you just said about what is included, what kind of information do you think we can ascertain from things like poor eye contact or, conversely, from a high level of engagement in terms of what should we ingest by those nonverbal cues? 

 

Maria: So each of them is a clue. It's not the answer, and it's really piecing. If you think about what a detective does, the detective takes one clue, and it's typically not the answer. It's that clue in the context of the 15 other things that they've put together. So it's really a stray eye contact could mean they just wanted to check what time it was on their iPhone, not that they're not interested in you. So that's why listening is not a one-time event. Listening is a continuous thing that happens when the other person is when you are not talking and other person is. And so it will tell you about, that collection of information will tell you about, what are they interested in what you have to say? Have you got sort of captured their attention and imagination, or are they just going through the motions? So that may indicate a need to change the way that I'm presenting what I'm talking about because they're not interested in it is kind of a clue. They may be completely distracted because of something that happened that morning or the night before, and they're really not paying attention to you. And so, again, you may want to shift gears. So it's about piecing together all those things and being cognizant of the place that that person is so that you, particularly if you want something from that person if you're trying to sell them something or engage them, you can adjust what you're doing.

 

Steve: Right. My two cents as I started to do some reading, post our discussion was that people in general instantly know when they've got a good listener on the other side of their conversation, and they actually are probably more interested to engage with someone who's a good listener than someone who's not a good listener. 

 

Maria: Everybody likes an audience. 

 

Steve: Yeah, exactly. 

 

Maria: This is the way to think about it. 

 

Steve: What I came across in reading is that there are two types of listening that people often refer to. And in this podcast, in particular, we've always tried to give the underpinnings. And since neither of us an expert, I'm going to proxy for the underpinnings. The first is active listening, which seems hard, and that's because you have to pay attention actively. As you were mentioning. You have to show people the other people in the conversation that you're actually listening, so that they can get their nonverbal cues, after they're done speaking, not during. You actually have to give them feedback, and you have to respond in an appropriate way. So that's a lot of mental energy that you have to put into it. The significant thing about active listening is it requires higher self-awareness. What's going on with me, as well as what's going on with you, and you have to constantly be monitoring all that. 

 

Maria: But let me stop you there because I think although, yes, it is hard to be a good listener if you shift your mindset and people think about listening as a passive activity. And I think if you switch and you think of it as an active thing where you're getting useful information that you can use to do a variety of things, I think that will change your mindset. And then you will view that as and as integral to your speaking, is you're listening to what they have to say because you're not passive, you are getting something from it. 

 

Steve: Right. Well, hence active listening, right? And you're right. I think once you establish that pattern and that becomes your way, then you're at a completely different level in terms of what you bring in and process. I don't know if it's worth bringing up or not, but the other just quickly. The other one is deep listening, which frankly, seems even harder to me. Deep listening is to hear every dimension of the other person. Honestly, I think that's really what you're talking about here more than even active listening. In the last question, I advertently added the answer to a question, How do you be a good listener? I happen to know that your answer to the question is actually better. So why don't you talk about that? How should a founder, in particular, listen well, and let's break it down into you even hinted at this earlier. Customers, employees, investors. Let's go with customers first. 

 

Maria: So I think it starts before you get into the meeting, and it starts with if you have materials, you're going to go through with them. So you are going to have a point to make about each page or two or 3 points you want to make on each page. In addition to the point that you want to make on each page, think about a question you want to ask for each page. You don't have to ask it in the meeting. It may not be relevant, but then you've at least sort of done that homework and set yourself up to give you a means to redirect the conversation. If you need to. So start by looking at your presentation and coming up with not just the points you want to make, but the questions you want to ask per page. 

 

And then when you are in the waiting room of the person that you're meeting, put down your smartphone for five minutes before you walk into the meeting. And if it's a really important meeting, make it 10 minutes and do a couple things. Look around the room and specifically note three things that you tell you about the place that you're at, because that's going to tell you about the culture, what's important to these people. They may have their mission statement up on the board. Go take a look at that. And it also may give you something to make some small talk about if things are not going well, and then when you walk into the meeting again, sort of take a look at the person you're meeting and just think for a second, I'm in a play. What am I getting from the scene that's in front of me? And then you can move into your conversations, but the presentation, it's the waiting room, and then when you walk across threshold. 

 

Steve: So this is kind of like listening before the conversation even starts. 

 

Maria: Exactly. 

 

Steve: Let's dig in a little bit about the questions you're saying. Form a question or two per page that you're going to ask. How do I think about what that should be? And how do I tune that on the moment you were saying it can actually sometimes be incredibly unfocused or innocuous. Just to get that process started. 

 

Maria: I would keep them more open-ended than precise, because when you ask a little bit more of an open-ended question, you sort of leave it to them to answer in what they're thinking. So if you've talked about the product that you have, the technology that you're trying to sell them, ask them, does this seem to solve a problem for you, or what kind of uses? I've talked about these use cases, but are there others that you think this could be helpful for? You can ask questions about the integration. And I think there's a way to say now we believe that the integration would require XYZ. Do we have that right? And so I think it's a combination of putting a bit of an open-ended question with a bit of a hook that they can start with. 

 

Steve: What about as an example, I even as high level as. So what do you think? What's going on? Just getting them nodding. 

 

Maria: Yeah, that is a little bit too open-ended. I think you need a little bit more structure than what do you think? Because that gives them the opportunity to say, I think it's interesting, 

 

Steve: Which is really saying nothing.

 

Maria: Which does not help you. So I think you need to be a little bit more specific so you can elicit information, and you can do that by putting I guess the way to think about it is people. It's easier for people to edit than to create. So if you give them something like, we think the technology integration just to go back to that would require these three steps, then they're editing your three steps and adding on to it, as opposed to having to create de novo. So if you say, so how's the integration process work? I mean, somebody is going to sit back and say, you have no idea you've done no homework. You just can't talk to you. That's too complicated. But by putting some information in front of them, it shows you've done some homework. Maybe you're not 100% correct because you've not been and in their data center, if you think about a big bank, but at least it's something to start with. 

 

Steve: So you've just defined listening as a Jedi mind trick. I love that. The one thing that I was thinking about as you were speaking, which maybe I wasn't listening properly. I don't know, was that you want it's not when it's a presentation. It's not really a presentation. There has to be some dialogue there, which means that there's got to be at least a relatively short amount of time before that person that you're presenting to comes back with feedback, right? Does it have to be right away? Does it have to be first page? Does it have to be?

 

Maria: If you are prone to talking too much, set your smartphone. So that it jolts you after 10 minutes. So if you are still talking after 10 minutes and you have not stopped to take stock of what do you think? Ask your question. You're talking too long. So if you are naturally inclined to do this, that's great. But if you haven't literally set yourself a little alarm and jolt yourself and then let a moment of silence kind of exist after you've asked the question. So if they're not, if you put a question out there and they don't answer it right away, don't feel you need to fill that silence. 

 

Steve: That's a good one. What's the value of that silence? 

 

Maria: Silence. Again, think about silence as kind of a tactical thing, because it's a little bit of a power struggle, right? People feel uncomfortable when there is silence and there's two people in a room. And so there is an urge to fill that silence. And again, remember that when people are talking, they're giving you information. And so it also may be the person needs a minute to sort of collect their thoughts, or they want to make sure they're putting it the right way. And if you step in too fast, you're, in effect, kind of stepping on there not just their words, but the thoughts that precede the words. 

 

Steve: Good. So we said we were going to talk about this from the perspective of customers, employees, and investors. That was customers. What about listening to both employees? 

 

Maria: So I guess the piece of advice I give there about employees is give your opinion last in meetings. So if there's a general conversation, whether it's about hiring somebody or a set of product design issues or go to market strategy, presuming if you've hired a competent team, like let the team or give you their ideas. And if you disagree violently, I would still recommend hold back your opinion. Because if the boss says this is the stupidest idea I've ever heard, you're not going to get any more conversation around that idea unless you've got a very strong person working for you. You can disagree and still think it's the stupidest idea you've ever heard. But rather than saying that, ask a series of probing questions, why do you think this? Put an alternative scenario in front. Well, have you thought about this? Did you think about that? Walk them through. All right. So if we do your plan, what do you think the outcomes will be? Do you think the outcome will be X? Or will it be Y? And if you're always better off leading somebody to your opinion where they think it, then is partly there, as opposed to shoving it down their throat. 

 

Steve: Yeah. Just by the way, on that one, Joel Peterson, who is the CEO of Jet Blue and a self-proclaimed good listener. He says the exact same thing that you should go last. So you're thinking is at least documented out there. But when we were talking the other day, you mentioned the value of being a sounding board of letting your employees vent from time to time. Do you want to comment on that as well? 

 

Maria: Yeah so I guess, two things on that. If you want to elicit opinions from your full group, you might think about sending the important question out to the employees before the meeting because people process and think about things differently. Some people are very good at the spot answers, and other people need a little bit more time to have a sort of a thoughtful answer. So I think probably the more important issue, the more time you want to get people to think about it. And then I've been in meetings where it gets stressful. And I remember this was after the September 11th attack in 2001. We had a group of mostly volunteers working here, and it was a very stressful time and things we were not getting the things that we needed from people in the way that we needed because we took over the distribution of the goods and services for small businesses. And so we had one meeting and one person got all upset and people just, was like little explosions around the table. And normally you would think that that's an unproductive thing to do in a meeting. But people were not making it personal. They were just venting their frustrations. And so it felt to me like I was on a horse and I had to let the horse run a little bit. It just had to work off the energy and had to work off the anger and work off the frustration. And then after about 15 minutes, you could pull back the reins and then come back to having. Alright, that's great. Understand. Now Let's talk about what we're going to do. But people felt that they were able to vent. And that was a good thing.

 

Steve: You know, in our prior conversations about this. One thing you didn't actually say, and one thing I don't think I've ever told anyone is I'm a big Chicago Cubs fan. I grew up in Evanston, Illinois, which makes me a North Sider. 

 

Maria: Which makes you a Cubs fan. 

 

Steve: By definition, if you're a North Side or you're a Cubs fan. And I found out that you're a Cubs fan, I think it was a year ago or something like that. And we were talking about the fantastic game seven of the World Series last year. And I was saying, you know, what an incredible lucky set of circumstances for the Cubs. And you said, no way, no such thing in particular. You pinpointed the rain delay. 

 

Maria: That's right. Because during the rain delay, the team went back to the dugout and they were ahead. And then for those of you that don't follow the Cubs as closely as Steve and I do, they were behind. They were tied, I think, or close, very close. Anyway, they were up. And then the opposite team got a whole bunch of runs. The rain started. They went back to the dugout. And one of the team players, who is generally a quiet person. 

 

Steve: Yes. Hayward. 

 

Maria: Hayward. None of the coaches were there was just the players. Hayward sat there and gave them a talk, and he talked to them about how they could do this. They had the skills. Everybody in the room apparently shut up. Nobody said anything. They listened, but they took it in and then they went out and they won the World Series. 

 

Steve: Yeah, they produced. They came out with a stunning post-rain delay performance. 

 

Maria: It's unbelievable. 

 

Steve: It's unbelievable. And I think that for me, that's a very good example of the positive benefits associated with it. I wanted to check in a couple of things from my perspective, in terms of what I was looking at with regard to employee listening in general, I don't think it's any surprise that employees feel more appreciated when their bosses listen to them. In that sense, my view is that listening is kind of a form of empathy, which I think is kind of a hand-in-hand component of listening broadly. Second, there's a book out there called Conscious Men. It's written by John Gray and Arjuna Arda, and it says that when a woman feels she has heard, it produces oxytocin, which lowers stress. I don't know if that's true or not. I would like to think so. Third, I found out that research has shown that the higher one is in an organization, the more likely that person is to dominate a conversation. The impact of dominating a conversation is that the employees don't feel appreciated and they don't feel like their bosses are listening. If you're talking, then how can you possibly be listening? So clearly, there is empirical research out there that suggests that it's valuable. 

 

Maria: And let me add one more, which is a very, very helpful piece of advice, somebody gave me in a context where you wouldn't expect that you would be listening from time to time, one has to lay off employees. It's always a difficult conversation, no matter what the circumstances are. And one of the most helpful things somebody told me about in that situation is you actually, because typically you talk about the package they're getting while they're being let go, etcetera. Mostly you expect it to be a one-way conversation, but if you throw in, not throw in, but you make part of the conversation the following question to the employee, which is, how would you like to message this departure? And then you sit there and you listen to the employee and they may not have an answer right then, but again, it's giving power back to that employee, it's giving them a chance to talk, and it's giving them a chance to have some control over what is a difficult situation for everybody.

 

Steve: We actually have, or I am actually involved in that very situation right now, and I can say that, in fact, it absolutely did take the edge off an otherwise amazingly tense situation. Okay. So we had customers, employees, and now investors. This, I think, is probably closer to my wheelhouse broadly, as a VC and perhaps yours as well. Let's talk a little bit about listening well, with potential investors. 

 

Maria: So, again, a couple of reasons why to do this. Nobody particularly in the early stages, you have to recognize that you have an idea of what your technology is going to do, an idea of what your company is going to do or sort of a working thesis. But as with most companies, you end up shifting it around and it changes, and you don't have everything just right. Those early, I don't know. First 18 months are as much about putting something out there to see how people are reacting to it. And you can't see how people are reacting to it if you're not listening to them, whether or not somebody is going to raise money, whether or not somebody is going to actually invest in your company, they still represent an investor and their perspective. And so putting your plan or your business plan in front of investors early to get their feedback and to have them point out where the weaknesses are and you don't have to go in and ask them, what are the weaknesses of my plan? You just have to put it in front of them. And by virtue of the questions they ask you, you're going to get what they think the weaknesses are. But again, you're not going to get that if you're not asking questions about what they think it is, and then you'll also get a sense of how is the market going to assess you based on the kind of questions they ask and how receptive they are. So you get a lot of actually a lot of useful information just sitting down and talking through your plan with an investor and giving them the space and the time to ask you questions and paying attention to the question.

 

Steve: For sure. 

 

Maria: That's really important is like, take notes on the kind of questions they're asking. You don't just answer the questions. And so if you want to have somebody else in the room with you whose job it is is to take notes on the questions they ask, that's not a bad idea. 

 

Steve: Yeah. We did a podcast episode with a guy by the name of Jeff Gothelf a while back, and he was talking about humility. And it was in the context of running the business, meaning that you have to be essentially humble enough once you put it out there and open enough to hear it. So in that sense, we talked about empathy being part of listening. I think humility and humbleness is also part of listening. And I think that's what you just said is the perfect point associated with that. 

 

Maria: So we've gotten very comfortable with the idea of crowdsourcing for money, etcetera. So think about in the early days. And even as you're developing new products is listening is crowdsourcing, you're putting your plan out there and you're getting people's input and ideas around your product, the market. You should be going after how you should be pricing it. So, don't take it as criticism that people think there are things that are wrong with it. As with anything, you'll get a lot of information, then you kind of sort through what you think makes sense. But if you're not open to at least if somebody doesn't think you're open to their feedback, you're not going to get it. 

 

Steve: Right. So I think what you're saying from the context of listening to investors, probably the best thing an investor can give you is money, of course, because that's why you're there. 

 

Maria: Right. 

 

Steve: But the second best thing an investor can give you is feedback. 

 

Maria: Exactly. And actually, the great adage is you want to talk to an investor before you need money. So you want to be in there six months before you go out to the market talking about your plan, what milestones you're going to look to achieve over the next six months before you go raise the money. And then, of course, the last question you want to ask when you leave that meeting is, can I come back to you when I'm going to raise money? I get that second meeting. 

 

Steve: Right. Frankly, a lot of that, to me, is a really important point. A lot of people think that the pitch meeting broadly is to go and get money. The goal of it. I think the goal of the pitch meeting is actually just to get another meeting.

 

Maria: To develop the relationship. Absolutely. 

 

Steve: And I think that a lot of people, if they think it's the former, they put way too much into it that is unproductive toward the goal of getting that second meeting. 

 

Maria: And they spend the whole time pitching. 

 

Steve: Right. 

 

Maria: So if it's a pitch meeting, the instinct is to pitch pitch pitch, whereas if it's a meeting to develop a relationship and to get feedback, and by the way, maybe they'll say yes, they're interested. But if you do it in that order, as opposed to starting with pitching, I think you'll end up going to that meeting and coming out with a very different outcome.
 

Steve: I agree. I know the other point that you wanted to make had to do with retaining what you hear. I don't know. Is that a place where you want to spend a little time and comment on? 

 

Maria: Yeah. I think one of the programs we run is Fintech Innovation Lab. And the finalists get brought into a room where there are 15, 16 senior executives from their potential customers. So the entrepreneur comes in, they've got 10 minutes to make a pitch, and then there's 15 minutes of Q&A So we have actually skewed it towards listening because you only get to pitch for 10 minutes. And most of it is about Q&A. And we and the kind of questions that people ask during that meeting because they're trying to figure out, what do you do? Is it relevant to them? Are they interested in it? Is those are really value, that's really valuable information. And so we recommend that when the entrepreneurs come to that meeting that they bring somebody from their team whose job it is to sit there and take notes on what the questions are. And I'm always surprised at the number of entrepreneurs who ignore our advice and just come themselves. And I think that that is I mean, I can't do that. I know I cannot be in a room full of potential customers who are very important. I'm pitching, I'm making a presentation, I'm listening to questions. I'm coming up with the answer, and then I'm going to retain everything they said. Maybe some of you all out there are superhuman, but most of us are not. And that applies to a large meeting where you're up there in front of a number of people. But I think it also applies to a smaller meeting of somebody there who's just sort of taking in the conversation because you notice different things.

 

Steve: Out there, there's the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and it's written by Stephen Covey. And he says in that book that most people do not listen with the intent to understand, which I think is the point that you're getting at. They listen with the intent to reply, right? They're in their mind thinking, alright, how am I going to refute that, or how am I going to add to that and especially.

 

Maria: Opposed to that question having value in and of itself. 

 

Steve: That's right. I think, especially in founder pitches. I see that behavior that he's talking about way too frequently, interjecting or interrupting, which is a problem that I have a problem that I have a lot of challenge with that I have to constantly gate myself, mentally preparing the response while you're instead of paying attention to what you're actually saying. And then conversation steering, which I also guilty of on occasion, whereby I take what you said, twist it a little bit so that I can get to the place where I want the conversation to be instead of truly just going, okay, what is the value of the output that I've just received? 

 

Maria: Right. Well, you don't see a lot of listening is on television with the pundits because actually, that's actually they're not there to listen. And so if you want an example of what's not listening, it's a pundit because they're there to make points and they go there with their talking points and that's their job is to make their points. 

 

Steve: I think so, sadly. I mean, it seems as if politically we are becoming more and more siloed over time, right? That undoubtedly is a function of not listening to the other side and ingesting that truly intending to ingest what that person is saying. To your point earlier about being superhuman, I've seen studies that say, typically a person retains 25% of what they hear, so 1 in 4 things. So it's probably not a bad thing to just bring someone along to help you listen. 

 

Maria: And I guess I would guess that you're attaining are the words that they said, not the full communication that you're getting from them.

 

Steve: Which gets back to the original points that you're talking about.

 

Maria: There’s a broader set of communication happening, not just words. 

 

Steve: Right. I think that the piece that I want to talk about now is not necessarily the customers and employees from benefits perspective, but the kind of what I think we're finally honing in on is the ability to listen to yourself a little bit. I think you had some thoughts on that in particular. I wonder if you would go into them. 

 

Maria: Yeah. It's important to stay true to your values. And there is value in creating a sort of statement for your company about what the values of your company are, and to go back and revisit that on occasion, because you get very caught up in the day to day of the minutia of running a business, the minutia of dealing with individual problems that people have that day, of thinking about the near term strategy. But you are trying to achieve a longer-term goal, and you're marrying values against that goal, which really speaks to how you're going to achieve that goal and the way you're going to conduct yourself towards achieving that goal. And so it's good to sort of take a step back and reread the value statement once a quarter, and that's in rereading it you're, in effect, or listen to your values. So that kind of forces you to take a step back to look at the bigger picture. And I think those things go hand in hand. The value and then the bigger picture again, of what you're trying to achieve. Values are about how you want to achieve it, but you have an ultimate goal in terms of how you want to get there. So to think about that and everybody's going to have a different way to do that. For some people, it's taking a walk in the forest. For some people, it's I don't know, doing vigorous exercise, but I think it's important to add that as part of your life because I'm sure everybody has recognized that the most interesting ideas that you have or not when you're at your computer grinding away at a lot of details, it's when you're away from things and thinking about and not sort of bogged down by the details. So, again, that's kind of listening to yourself and listening to your ideas, and then you have to trust your gut when you get to a certain point and you've seen enough things in life, then if something is nagging you like, this just doesn't feel right or we're missing something here. Don't ignore that. Really listen to that and sort of take a step back and say, well, why is this bothering me? Like, what could be wrong with this? Or ask somebody else. You know, this doesn't feel right to me. What do you think? And inevitably, when you look at people where there was sort of a fork where either there was something that was going to be illegal that they were going to do, but something didn't feel right about it, and they checked in with somebody that was one of the best decisions they did was to check in around that. Or if something that an employee is doing doesn't feel right, that may be a sign of some other things happening behind it. So trusting and listening to your gut, I think, is really one of the most important things that you can do. 

 

Steve: I love the notion of the philosophical reasons associated with listening. That pause is essentially allowing life to let to tell you where you need to be going broadly as well, right? And a lot of that stuff is in there, and it's just a matter of paying attention to that voice. 

 

Maria: And if your listening, you're kind of clearing space, you're not adding noise to the process, you're letting things kind of sort themselves out. 

 

Steve: Right. The last topic is benefits of good listening. And I'm going to go first on that one. As you know, I had a list of benefits prepared, over-prepared, over-read, because I just don't know as much on the topic, but I think that's probably not so helpful, probably because most of those benefits are self-evident, I suspect. But what I decided to do is just summarize a couple of the benefits that we touched on today, the first being increased employee satisfaction. Obviously, employees feel appreciated, which is what you want. Obviously, if you're running a company, a better product market fits. If you have the humility to listen to your customers and they are telling you what they like, what they don't like, what the use cases are, clearly that's good for the top line of your business, customer satisfaction. Another customer-related one, right? If you are hearing what they're telling you and you're responding to that in a way that allows them to be satisfied, which is great. Maybe we touched on this. Maybe we didn't kind of tangentially. I think you end up with a more innovative culture. If your culture is one that listens to each other and then high correlation with strong leadership in general, the better leaders are better listeners. So I think there's all a lot of positive impacts of benefits from being a good listener, obviously. I don't know. Is there any that we touched on today that I didn't mention that you would bring up?

 

Maria: I'm going to answer the question in a little bit more of an abstract way. 

 

Steve: Please. 

 

Maria: So I think listing makes you smarter because you're going to get more information from people, which more information if you process it right, makes you a smarter person, and it makes you more insightful, so it makes you smarter. The second thing it does is other people will feel valued. And then where that leads to is you create the possibility of a real relationship as opposed to a superficial relationship. And so real relationships, as any therapist will tell you, is based on good communication. So go back to the beginning about good communication, and good communication with your customers, with your investors, with your employees, make for a better company. But I think it makes for longer-lasting relationships, and that ultimately leads to a successful outcome. 

 

Steve: So that actually is full circle from the quote from Larry King in the intro, which is fantastic. Let's end there. I think this has been a great discussion. I really appreciate your time and insight, and particularly for suggesting the topic. I enjoyed talking with you, and I think it's likely to be helpful for everyone that is, wait for it, wait for it, listening to this. Alright. So thank you very much. 

 

Maria: My pleasure. Thanks very much. 

 

Outro: This has been Intangibles, a podcast created by Antecedent Ventures. Find out more at www.antecedent.vc

 

I'd like to thank Dentons Venture Technology Group at dentonsventurebeyond.com for being the sponsor this season and a supportive partner. Operating as a boutique within the world's largest law firm, the venture technology group runs with hard-charging tech entrepreneurs to drive growth, strategic business finance, and legal advice from Silicon Valley and New York to London, Berlin, Hong Kong, and beyond. Learn more at dentonsventurebeyond.com.

 

I'd also like to thank Ben Glawe, who has been instrumental in helping me record and produce this season. I couldn't have done it without him. Find him on Twitter @Visible_Sound. 

 

And thank you. Keep an eye out for the next episode. And if you like this one, leave us a favorable review.

 

I'm your host Steve Berg.