The Death of Listening

When did we stop listening to each other?  Was it when we taught a generation of children to be seen and not heard? Was it when we were taught that winning meant not giving in?   Or was it when it when it because acceptable to interrupt people in meetings and talk over them? How about when opposing views became so repellant that we could no longer hear over the rushing sound in our ears?  

We used to debate issues openly, with thoughtfulness.  What happened to those days?

Is there a correlation between this increasing isolation of human beings, the lack of connectedness, with the decline in listening?  It is much easier to connect and listen to a someone you disagree with over a beer than over facebook. In both cases, fists can fly, but only over a beer will I see the other human before me.

Listening builds connection.  A group of people who are talking but not listening is almost like a room of people playing solitaire, they are together but they don’t need to be.  When you listen to another human being, and I mean fully listen, you start to build connective tissue between you and the other person.

True story, I was working for a consulting firm and I went to a client to have lunch with the other consultants there (it wasn’t my client really).  When I arrived the client was ranting and raving to my colleagues. As it wasn’t my client, I had no idea what was going on, so I just sat and listened.  The client called the CEO to ask to have me put on the account because they felt that I really understood them. I did not utter ONE WORD while I was there.  The other gentlemen were interrupting, trying to solve the problem and defend their work.  They did just about everything except listen.

L’eggo my ego.  We all want to seem smart and feel valued.  Deep listening demands that you let go of your egos need to be important and instead be present.

One manager, I met actually insisted that people ‘say something’ during meetings to show that they are adding value.  Ironically, their comments often had the opposite effect. They would just add confusion or extraneous words and people would wonder why they were there in the first place.  They were not only responding to their own ego, but they also had to feed their manager’s ego.

The art of the interrupt.  Interruption is usually a power play in meetings.  Men interrupt twice as often as women, and are three times more likely to interrupt women.  When you interrupt someone you break connection instead of building it.  There are occasions where interrupting is in service to the other person.  When you see that someone has completed their thought and is unsure how to stop talking, an interruption can be useful.  But only through deep listening will you know that it’s time to jump in to help, rather than your own ego wanting a turn.

Brain Twist: Next time someone is talking to you, see what happens if you only ask questions that get deeper into what they are saying.  Check out this list of powerful questions for ideas.