Sunday, August 12, 2018

You May Think You're A Good Listener, But You'd Probably Be Wrong.

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................"

Every list of the skills one needs to acquire to be successful, invariably includes listening.  Being a good listener is touted as absolutely essential to your professional and personal life.  I've talked about it on this blog before.

You probably think you are a good listener. Better than most people anyway.  Yes, you admit, you don't always put in the effort, but you fully understand the skill, and when its important you are indeed a good listener.

You're very likely not.  You're fooling yourself.  We all tend to think we are better at certain skills than we, in fact, are.  At least better than other people are.  Psychologists call it illusory superiority, and it is a cognitive bias.  Perfectly normal and natural unless manifested in some extreme.

Most people only think they are good listeners.  As I've quoted Paul Simon in the song The Boxer, before:

"All lies in jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

I bring it up again, because I think the universal advice is right - listening skills are critical.  Especially as we are moving foursquare into an age of ideas.

Hearing what we want, isn't being a good listener.  But that's what we do.  Here's another way of putting it - found in an article on The Art of Listening Well by Eugene Raudsepp in INC. magazine:

 "A zoologist was walking down a busy city street with a friend. In the midst of the honking horns and screeching tires, he exclaimed to his friend, "Listen to that cricket!"  The friend looked at the zoologist in astonishment and said, "You hear a cricket in the middle of all this noise and confusion?"  Without a word, the zoologist reached into his pocket, took out a coin, and flipped it into the air. As it clinked on the sidewalk, a dozen heads turned in response.
The zoologist said quietly to his friend, "We hear what we listen for."

And too often, we listen for confirmation of what we already tend to think and believe.  We don't listen in search of contradictory thinking, or even new and challenging thoughts.  We want evidence supporting our already-arrived-at position.  If you don't believe me, the next time you are at a breakout session at a conference, when its open mike for the participants, listen to what the speakers are saying.  For the most part it's like an old Buffalo Springfield song, For What Its Worth:

"People carrying signs, Mostly say 'Hooray For Our Side'

The problem is that most of us much prefer to hear ourselves talk than hear someone else.  Even the shy among us, who never talk, often come to that conclusion in their minds.  It makes real listening very difficult.

There is no shortage of advice on improving your listening skills, most of which encourages you to focus, to put aside your biases and pre-conceived thinking, to be open and receptive, and, of course, to basically keep quiet while listening - both aloud and in your mind.  Listening, we're taught, is a technique we can master if we're willing to put in the effort.

Consider the more stringent requirements suggested by Erich Fromm - the world renowned social psychologist, and the author of The Art of Love - in his work, The Art of Listening, as put in Psychology: 

"Fromm objects to framing listening as a "technique," since that word applies "to the mechanical, to that which is not alive, while the proper word for dealing with that which is alive is 'art.'" And so if "psychoanalysis is a process of understanding man's mind, particularly that part which is conscious... it is an art like the understanding of poetry." He then provides basic rules for this art as follows:

  • The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
  • Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
  • He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
  • He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
  • The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.

So Ftomm argues that listening needs not only an open mind, but a mind serious and sincerely seeking to understand what it is hearing.  It requires a level of respect for the person you're listening to, and a conscious effort to empathize not only with the speaker's position, but for how the speaker got to that position.

That may be a deeper involvement in listening than most of us want to elect, but the premise that real listening require more than just paying attention, looking the other person in the eye, and not talking needs to be considered.

I think its perfectly legitimate, even if somewhat judgmental and unfair, to conclude that you just don't have time to listen to everybody, and specifically to certain people. But you ought to try to refine your listening skill so you can interact and intersect with the people in your profession and in your life that you need to listen to.  At least learn to know when listening is important, and practice how to be a good listener beforehand.  And a good listener probably doesn't make too many judgmental pre-assumptions.  

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit