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Listen: How to Tune Into Underlying Motives

Listen: How to Tune Into Underlying Motives

Great things are possible with intentional listening. It's actually a skill you can build.

Sometimes a dry topic is transformed into a juicy one solely through a change in attitude or perception. This week a corporate security review I attended started out dense and remote – then changed completely because of what might be called intentional listening.

Listening is a more challenging skill than we realize. Our default habit mind listens with a goal of understanding what speakers want. Deeper thinking leads us to ask other questions that are essential and fundamental: What is the thinking that is driving what they want? What goals have the speakers set? Why are they interested in these specific goals?

It’s a shift from hearing what someone wants to discerning why they want it.

Great things are possible with intentional listening. In business, for example, it becomes possible to understand an irate customer demanding, “I want this immediately!”

With a little patient insight and the fortitude to endure their urgency, you might see that their goal is not to disappoint a loved one, not to break a commitment, not to let their peers down.

At work, intentional listening makes it easier to understand your teammates, employees, and bosses. Are they seeking a better performance review? Are they looking to acquire challenging new skills? Are they afraid of failure?  

Listening is aided when you develop sympathy for the customer or your colleague or your team as people, or perhaps even empathy because you can relate to them.

Now, back to the security meeting. At first, the topics seemed lifeless as these topics were discussed: 

  • Secure development life cycles
  • Security compliance and standards
  • Intrusion detection
  • Server resiliency and infrastructure security
  • Device protection
  • And on, and on


As I listened, I began to understand the implications of failure in these areas. What if there was a data breach? Or a failure to meet GDPR requirements? Or if employees’ devices were vulnerable? As each puzzle piece fell into place, my grasp of the situation became keener. Security teams are mostly overlooked. Hardly anyone in the C-Suite could name an individual member. Yet many have been phished or hacked or had their credit card data or personal data stolen.

These people who work far from the spotlight allow an enterprise to create trust. No security, no trust. This team rang that bell.

Suddenly there was a new appreciation for the security team’s goal and mission. It was easy to get hooked. But why?

On circling back and observing the team, I saw a wealth of what McKinsey calls “organizational health.” They played the long game of improving their relationships and processes – not grasping for short-term performance metrics. That shone through in the sense of connectedness and collaboration –  even more impressive because it is a distributed, global team. There was something in the way they related to and respected each other’s work. They displayed their higher selves, as both individual contributors and an integrated and purposeful team.

When I listened intentionally, I heard something as true as a healthy heartbeat: The honor and dignity that leads to mastery.

An organization that allows teams to be successful and individuals to be recognized often thrives.  

Tune into the organizational health of the many teams in your enterprise. You might be surprised – one way or another – not by what they want, but by their motivations.


Michael Maoz Senior Vice President of Innovation Strategy

Michael Maoz is Senior Vice President of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce. He joined Salesforce from Gartner, Inc., where he was a founder of the CRM practice and held positions as Research Vice President, Distinguished Analyst, and Gartner Fellow. Michael is also a Board Member at Rutgers Center for Innovation Education, and an advisor to Just Capital. Michael has lived and worked on three continents. He focuses his time outside of work on family, friends, learning world cultures, hiking, cycling, volunteering and reading.

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