Mastering the art of listening is beneficial to everyone. It allows leaders to identify opportunities, innovate, and increase profitability. It strengthens relationships, builds better teams, and bridges gaps. So why aren’t we listening?
When this topic comes up with my coaching clients, I point out three common reasons. First, consider our incredible brain capacity. The human brain is a remarkable, complex system with enormous power to process information through electrical signals. Like a computer (or artificial intelligence), it has circuits for input, output, central processing (CPUs), and memory. The human brain also uses parallel processing, and, according to Liqun Luo, professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, has “superior flexibility, generalizability, and learning capability than the state-of-the-art computer.”
Secondly, on average, the human brain thinks at 500 words per minute (Wpm). However, we only speak at an average of 130 Wpm. This frees up a lot of CPUs when we are listening, and we begin to multi-task.
Third, emotional distractions also create a lack of presence and inability to listen. These include:
- Resentment and envy
- Fear and feeling threatened
- Fatigue and frustration
- Overexcitement (happiness, joy, attraction)
- Insecurities and/or a need to be “right”
When we think we already know what someone is going to say, we often stop listening, and begin crafting a solution and response. When this happens, we move away from a place of curiosity, a keystone of listening.
Similarly, our limited perspective can interfere with our listening. When we think we know what someone is going to say, or hear something that contradicts what we think or feel, we stop listening. We fail to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know. We hold on to bias, beliefs, and pre-conceived notions.
Often times, leaders who struggle in the art of listening are simply struggling with their own perceived inability to act on suggestions and ideas. As a result, they shut down the flow of ideas and requests, and move to a defensive position where they do all the talking. Sure, they may empathize (and emphasize) how much they care, but they are not listening.
Do you recognize when and why you are not fully listening? Would you like more information or coaching to help you recognize (and stop) when you are not fully listening? You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.