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Leadership Thought #421 – Listening Is A Lost Art

January 29, 2013

Free Man in Red Polo Shirt Sitting Near Chalkboard Stock Photo

A conversation without listening is merely the exchange of two monologues.  If we limit our exchange of information to what we already know or believe, we are limiting our capacity to learn, grow and have healthy relationships.  Every day you witness evidence of public or private figures that really have no interest in hearing what anyone else is saying.  It has become common practice to become intractable in your views and block out any contrary evidence.  In reality, our society tends to reward brashness and poor behavior these days.  Just look at who dominates the airwaves.

I had a wonderful mentor who told me many years ago to “listen until it hurts.”  He wisely surmised that this was not a natural strength for me.  I was regularly in a state of always preparing to talk rather than practicing conscious listening.  Unsurprisingly, I often had a tough time with people who had a different point of view from mine.  It became apparent to me that my confidence quickly became arrogance and smugness from the other person’s perspective.

For another person to have a true connection with you they need to feel like you care about what they have to say.  No one likes being lectured.  This does not mean that all opinions are created equal or that facts don’t matter.  However, never discount how stubbornly someone will cling to a position if they feel attacked or threatened.  To be open to alternative thinking, you must feel safe in the relationship.

Lately, I believe our culture has become so fixated on being right that individually and collectively we can’t accept the premise of being wrong or only partially right.  The American tendency to “one up” the other person is our intellectual Achilles heel.  The whole concept of “exceptionalism” is a very slippery slope.  The truth is that that no one has the market cornered on clever ideas or an unblemished track record.  Repeatedly it has been proven that heterogeneous groups with diverse points of view make better decisions than strong willed individuals or groups who act in a homogenous fashion.

Listening has become a lost art.  I encourage you to try listening until it hurts. Do your best to be present in and stay focused on one conversation at a time.  Avoid technological distractions.  Strive not to rush to judgment especially when emotionally triggered, but instead embrace the idea of learning from every interaction.  You will find that people will open more in front of you and end up lauding you as a good conversationalist.