“Hey Little Missy, God blessed you with hearing. Don’t waste that precious gift by failing to listen.”
Carol Strider (my mom)
I have the honor of creating and presenting what I hope to be relevant and timely leadership “content” to a group of managers and supervisors every month for a specific client. I’ve been doing this for a little over a year and each month, I am not only flattered they continue to want me back but I’m re-energized and motivated to practice what I preach.
This month was no exception.
The leadership competency I was presenting on was “listening.” By far one of the most critical competencies of good leaders, I believe effective listening is elusive to even the most seasoned managers.
I have my theories as to why, and I share some of them with you now in hopes they get you thinking. I’m willing to place a wager for a tasty beverage on the chance that your listening is inhibited by some of the barriers below.
Our listening is weakened because:
We think we’re smart.
Indeed, we may be very smart, but when we think we’re smarter than the speaker/messenger, or when we think we already know the answer or the “rest of the story”, we decrease our ability to listen effectively. When we think we could deliver the message better or more effectively than the person sending it, we are allowing our ego to get in the way of listening. And honestly, once our ego enters the equation, any respect we had for the speaker/messenger is so depleted that we won’t attempt to listen to the message and we won’t care that we are failing to understand what we’re hearing.
We think we can help.
Perhaps we can help, and perhaps the sender of the information is looking for advice, counsel and assistance, but when we offer it unsolicited, we fail to listen. If we’re thinking about our own insights, ideas and solutions, how can we truly be giving our undivided attention to the speaker/messenger? Maybe we should focus our energies on listening and then, when the speaker/messenger turns the conversation over to us and asks for help, we can become the savior we aspire to be.
We like to win.
Doesn’t everyone? It’s always fun to pull ahead, have one up on our competition, or be recognized for our achievements. But when it comes to communication, there is no place for competition. “Competitiveness” shows up as interruptions, challenges and disagreements, “me too” or “me better” stories, and quests for the “last word.”
Conversations are not debates and we shouldn’t treat them as such. When we do, we not only inhibit our mind from being open to what is being communicated but we often offend the speaker/messenger, which may result in a vicious cycle of miscommunication.
We like things “our way.”
We all like to be comfortable, and many of us find great comfort in communicating and engaging with people who are similar to us. They think like us, they solve problems like us, they share the same vocabulary, etc. But when someone is trying to communicate with us and he/she is altogether different, we spend energy fighting the message.
We want the speaker/messenger to use our words/vernacular and we get all hot and bothered when he/she doesn’t. We want the speaker/messenger to structure his/her message in a way that makes sense to us and, when he/she doesn’t, we attack the method, message or the person. We want them to think like us and when they offer an opinion or thought we disagree with, we immediately begin to formulate a way to argue or to discredit. All of these things deplete our capacity to listen effectively.
We all have so much mental capacity; none of us are using it all when we are receiving information! Perhaps we should use some of the excess not in the ways described in the paragraphs above but instead, in ways that help us actively listen?
Maybe we could enter conversations with an open slate, or beginner’s mind? Maybe we could ask questions to clarify or to explore the logic/reasoning behind the message? Maybe we could seek to gain the speaker’s/messenger’s perspective? Maybe we could listen to others in the conversation and process what we’re hearing before we enter the conversation ourselves?
I believe we need to do these things in order to be better listeners.
Only when we become better listeners will we open our minds, and perhaps even our hearts, to someone or something totally new and valuable.
As I wrote earlier, I am grateful for my monthly leadership presentations because they seek to remind me of my own aspirations and, often, my own shortcomings.
I think I’m smart.
I want to help.
I like to win.
I like my comfort zone.
I know there is nothing glaringly “wrong” with these characteristics but I also know, when it comes to listening, they don’t help, they hinder.
Do you hear me?