It's no secret. I think Patrick Donahoe is a fantastic choice as the Postmaster General and CEO of the United States Postal Service. Okay, I can hear it now. Wanda's trying to win points with Pat. Well, that never hurts, but that is not the goal of my column. What I am trying to do is to show how Pat's "Generous Listening Style" can help all of us who earn our paychecks through the mail by following his example, build relationships, and improve business.

So what's generous listening? I heard that expression at a recent study group and was intrigued. There is a great deal of information related to improving communication styles and several experts[i] recommend "generous listening" as part of your tool box. I pay attention when someone's talking. I even put down my BlackBerry and nod my head when I'm listening. Ah, nope! That's not it. That's automatic listening and is the way most of us listen. It doesn't take any thought, attention or effort. I do it all the time. I wait for a gap in the conversation so I can jump in to get my point across - or I "zone out" if it appears that my opinion will be ignored and wonder what's for lunch.
So what's generous listening? Back to Pat... for the past five years I've participated on the Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee Leadership Committee's quarterly meetings at postal headquarters. Pat (then Deputy PMG) would attend the "pulse of the industry" segment of the meeting because he truly was interested in what we had to tell him. Here's what Pat did:
· Remained completely attentive to the person speaking. He seemed to be willing to step out of his shoes and into the speaker's in a sincere effort to begin a deeper understanding of the issue or concern.
· Asked open ended questions as if on a journey with the speaker. Conversations don't go anywhere without someone truly listening.
· Paraphrased what he heard in his own words and kept a "you" focus. Setting a focus beyond the words to the emotions involved - to the experience that I was trying to communicate. He always left me with a sense that he valued the input and sincerely wanted to build a good customer relationship.
· Looked for and used feedback for systemic improvement. Being willing to hear individual "truth" sparks entrepreneurial creativity - people respect an atmosphere where everyone's view is valued. This doesn't mean agreement with every issue and concept; it does mean you are heard.
We have a PMG who demonstrates generous listening and is an entrepreneur. How can you be an entrepreneur in an organization as mature as the USPS? You create a vision of innovation with an orientation to the marketplace. You don't keep doing the same things you've been doing. You have external optimism that allows others to believe in you in the rough times. You are a realist who looks for opportunities, takes calculated risks, and has the tenacity to push an idea through to reality.
And what is the best way to accomplish the necessary innovation? You generously listen to your customers and stakeholders and involve them in your vision - like Pat does. When I asked about his listening philosophy in February, Pat said, "We are in the process of changing many aspects of the Postal Service to better serve the American people. It all begins with listening to our customers, understanding and internalizing their core needs, and then doing everything we can to meet those needs." Patrick R. Donahoe