Stop Downloading – Start Listening
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations
young red haired girl listening to music on white headphones

I recently wrote about the challenges that leaders face when attempting to listen generatively. We spend too much time downloading (to reconfirm what we already know, i.e. not really listening) or listening factually (to confirm or disconfirm what you already know, focusing on details). And we spend too little time listening empathically or generatively.

It occurred to me that some of the reasons which contribute to this imbalance are found in Jennifer Garvey Berger’s wonderful book: Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How To Thrive In Complexity. Garvey Berger identifies five mindtraps:

  • Simple stories
  • Rightness
  • Agreement
  • Control
  • Ego

In the context of downloading and factual listening, simple stories (neat and tidy start, middle and ending) blind us to the complexity which hides behind words and concepts. garvey Berger makes the case that we tend to take what has happened in the past and project it forward into the future, and without realising it, fill in or ignore bits so it all makes sense.” And we do so at warp speed, most of the time unconsciously.

Rightness, “your sense of being right about something, the sparkling clarity of certainty, is not a thought process, not a reasoning process, but an emotion​ that has nothing to do with whether you are right or not.” That might sound strange, but that’s what we do when we listen to confirm our rightness or to indict and prosecute the other for being wrong.

Our sense of rightness and certainty blinds us to distinctions and differences, and often leads to polarising behaviour rather than to a curiosity about how the other may be right. Moreover, as Regina Vogel writes:

At the core of certainty is an idea. That idea turns into a belief if you feel that it’s true. It takes an emotionally charged event to have you turn an idea into a belief. In other words, you experience either pleasure or pain and that has you attach meaning to an event. The newly formed belief then informs your future actions as you seek to create more of the pleasure or to avoid more of the pain. And once again you have likely not listened in a meaningful way.”

Our ego’s are also at play when we listen. Garvey Berger writes “We protect and defend the identity we have rather than open ourselves to possibilities.” We often unconsciously waste energy defending our beliefs as we mistake others’ words and ideas as threats to our sense of Self and how we need to be seen. And if we are doing this, it is unlikely that you are “over there”, listening to another human being with an open mind and heart. In fact, once the initial threat to ego lands within you, flight, fright or freeze can take over, and render all else that is said by the other irrelevant.

Avoiding these mind traps is key to building your capacity to listen. That requires putting in the work to develop your self-awareness and to discover those reactive tendencies which impede your ability to apprehend the complexity around you and within you.

This will allow you to shift to listening empathically and generatively more often. And that will allow you to create a different impact in the world.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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