A lot of issues could be successfully resolved in organizations if we could get better at doing one seemingly simple thing—listening! Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of effective listening that goes on in most organizations, despite leaders’ best intentions, for a variety of reasons. Here we take a look at some of those reasons and offer some advice for doing a better job at listening—an important step toward building understanding and inclusion.
We Take Listening for Granted
Listening is something (we think) we do automatically. After all it’s a natural action for most of us. But just because we may be physically listening to the input around us, doesn’t mean that we’re actually listening. Listening isn’t a passive active—it should be an active action, something we do with purpose.
We Have Too Many Distractions
Distractions are everywhere these days regardless of the setting we’re in. In a business or office setting there may be other conversations taking place. There may be people walking by. There may be music playing. There may be technology-related distractions like pop-ups, beeps or other notifications. Or we may simply be subject to distractions we create on our own, like sneaking peaks at our cellphones or other devices while we’re engaged in conversations with others.
Our Internal Dialogue Captures Our Attention
When we listen to others, chances are we’re also paying attention to our own internal dialogue which may or may not be related to the conversation we’re having. We may be thinking about our next meeting, what we’re going to have for dinner, an upcoming vacation—any number of things that capture our attention and take it away from the person we’re interacting with.
We’re Preparing to Make Our Own Case
Particularly when we’re engaged in a debate or disagreement, our tendency when interacting with someone is to be thinking of what we’re going to say next while they’re talking. Doing that, of course, means that we’re not really paying attention to what they’re saying—we’re not really listening.
We Assume We Already Know
This is a big one—and a barrier that limits our ability to really understand others. We make assumptions about those we interact with, often based on unconscious biases we have. But, if we fail to listen, we fail to overcome those biases!
We Close Our Minds (and Our Ears) to New or Conflicting Information
Another big barrier that impacts listening effectiveness is the tendency to immediately dismiss information that differs from our existing beliefs or understanding. This is likely most clear these days in political circles where polarization is rampant. But it is also likely to occur anytime we interact with someone who is “other” than us—someone with different life experiences, or different perspectives and beliefs.
It is, of course, in these moments of interaction with “others” that we have the greatest opportunity to build understanding and breakthroughs in our relationships.
Listening—not so easy after all. Which of the above barriers are impacting your ability to build and nurture inclusion in your organization? Be inclusive!