Do you listen to people? Your family and friends, or your children, or your colleagues, or your boss? Do you listen?
And by listen, I do not mean waiting politely for your turn to speak. That is an entirely different art, in which many of us are practiced.
Do you listen, and what do you listen for?
We have all been in situations when we have been talking and been interrupted, or noticed that the people we are talking to are not actually listening. It’s immediately and deeply infuriating. It’s also easy to recognise, and sometimes we can pull people up on it. We can repeat ourselves in meetings. We can ask or wait for quiet when presenting and start again when we have the attention of the room. Harder to spot are those times when we are quietly not listened to.
When politicians embark on a ‘listening exercise’, when companies ask for feedback, when schools have a school council but don’t give them any power over any decisions to be made, when questionnaires are sent out but the outcome has already been decided.
We can all be guilty of this. When we listen to a speech and we already know what we will hear. Our confirmation bias is staggering and often blindingly obvious, to all but ourselves. We listen hardest to those we already agree with.
To what impact?
Will our new product fail because we didn’t listen to those who disagreed with us? Does staff morale drop because their ideas and feedback are not listened to? Do staff realise over time that you have pretended to listen to them but nothing ever changes? Could mistakes have been averted, could successes have been bigger by listening, actually listening to each other?
There is beauty in listening. In trying to understand what someone else is saying, and why they are saying it, we can get a better understanding of the bigger picture.