Are we losing the ability to listen? I mean to truly listen to understand someone else – to understand what they mean, what they need, and why. More and more as I’m working with leaders and teams, I find that the root cause of many problems, stressors, and failures is a lack of communication. And I mean real communication. You can have weekly staff meetings or monthly status updates or daily check-ins, but if the people involved in those meetings are only listening to reply (which is listening until they hear something to disagree with or feel the need to defend against, correct, or criticize), then is communication actually happening?
This is a problem, because when we listen to reply, we are saying that our opinions and needs and ideas are not only right, but are more important. When we listen to reply, we have already lost the opportunity to understand someone else, to respectfully question, to be curious about any differences, or to collaborate on a way forward. When we listen to reply, we are closing ourselves off to new ideas, approaches, or opportunities.
So, what would it be like if we practice listening to understand? What if we pause and make sure we understand someone when they express something – especially if it is incongruous with our own ideas or opinions? What if we ask that person, “Can you help me understand how you came to that conclusion?” or “That’s an interesting perspective. Can you say more about why you think that way?” What if we become just as interested in what other people have to say as we are with being heard?
What if we worked toward being respectful and effective, rather than being right? If we practice listening to understand, we will change leadership and lead change.