Volume XXI, Number 45 (Issue 1049) October 30, 2023
One of the things we encourage our client CEOs and their executives to do is go on listening tours – provided they are willing to genuinely listen. As some of you know far too well, genuineness can be a problem for some. The ability to listen and not dismiss the views of others simply because they differ from your own is one of the traits of effective leaders – whether that leader is in a position of authority or making their way there. One of the impediments to listening for understanding is something we call the success paradox. Simply put, it is the phenomenon where the higher one rises on the organization chart and the more success they enjoy in their career – those affirmations of one’s abilities begin to convince them their approach and thinking is spot on. After all, if one’s approach was not working it would have limited their upward mobility. Beyond that, surely those around them would have drawn attention to their shortcomings so that they could amend their ways.
The success paradox is not the only thing that tends to get in our way of being a good listener. Binary Bias also inhibits our ability to listen to and consider differing points of view. For those not familiar with the term binary bias, it is the tendency to see very complex issues in terms of black or white. More specifically, it is a psychological bias that causes us to dismiss any thought, belief, or opinion that differs from our own. It is a form of my way or the highway thinking and as such it is the very thing plaguing many of our elected officials.
How often have you encountered someone who is knowledgeable about a great many things, eloquent in their delivery, and yet completely closed off to any opinion that conflicts with their own? Sadly, I see it far too often – and not just among those with positional authority. In fact, many of us suffer from binary bias to one degree or another. It is what gives rise to much of the conflict we encounter in this world as well as the reason that some conflicts prove so hard to resolve.
Thus, I find it interesting that as part of a class on communication that I taught last week to a group of mostly frontline supervisors and middle managers, when I asked them to tell me what an effective communicator does, they quickly offered the following:
- Knows their audience.
- Is a good listener.
- Detail oriented.
- Adjusts their style and approach to connect with the audience.
- Provides clear communication.
- Practices brevity.
- Earns and demonstrates trust.
And since the group raised the issue of “good listener,” I followed with a question about what good listeners do. Their responses were as follows:
- Demonstrates empathy.
- Listens to understand, not respond.
- Gives undivided attention (blocks out distractions and outside interruptions).
- Asks questions meant to increase their understanding.
- Confirms (affirms) the speaker’s points.
Considering the above lists were the product of two three-minute exercises, I think the group I was working with knows full well what makes for an effective communicator including that all important quality of being a good listener. What do you think?
For that matter, when you are interacting with your team, or one-on-one with someone – particularly someone who may have differing experiences, a different background, and a different role and therefore a different point of view, how good a listener are you? Do you genuinely listen for understanding? What about ascribing merit and value to their point of view?
Soli Deo Gloria
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James 1:19
J. Keith Hughey
Web site: www.jkeithhughey.com
Transforming Potential into Unmatched Performance
Copyright 2023 by J. Keith Hughey. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for reproduction and redistribution of this essay as provided under the copyright laws of the United States of America. The entire early library of Monday Morning Musings issues may be found at www.jkeithhughey.com. Your comments are welcome and encouraged.