Listening: Hearing Ourselves Think in a Culture of Overload

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice

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How do you listen? Do you listen to yourself talk, or do you say things without really realizing what you are saying?  I used to believe that I could listen simultaneously--to another person, my own thoughts and statements, and perhaps to a wonderful song playing on the radio. But researchers have now pretty well established that we don't actually focus on more than one thing at the same time. Instead, we shift our focus quickly from one source of stimuli to another. Unfortunately, this rapidly shifting focus often means we don't really listen, at least not to the essence of what is being said, even when we are the ones saying it. And that failure to listen to ourselves has a pretty significant cost.

I am lucky because as a leadership coach I get to listen, really listen. And in the process, I often have the opportunity to help my clients pause and hear themselves. This happened awhile back when a client announced that his boss was "clueless". A fascinating assertion, and obviously a source of great irritation to Ned (not his real name). Only I didn't exactly understand what he meant. And I wasn't even sure that he really believed it. So I asked, "Your boss is completely clueless?" And instead of agreeing, Ned took a minute to think about it. "Well no, I guess he's not completely clueless. He has been pretty successful recruiting talent for our team. He just doesn't know anything about what we actually do."

 Now I was even more curious, because Ned had told me a number of times how much he liked his autonomy at work. "Ned, what do you want your boss to understand about what you actually do?"

He started to tick things off one finger at a time. "Well, I want him to recognize and provide the resources we need---dedicated time, equipment,software updates, scheduling, new talent, space for our team to work. I think that's mostly it. And I guess I need him to spread the word when we've got a new product to offer."

"So I take it that all that is hard when your boss is clueless?"

Ned responded quickly, "You've got a point there. He's not really clueless. I'm not even sure why I said that. He does all the things I told you just now pretty well. He's been one of my better bosses that way."

Now Ned truly had me stumped. "A few minutes ago you mentioned your boss was clueless, and we started taking a look at that because you've been bored at work recently. Can you help me understand what you meant when you said he was clueless, and what that has to do with your feelings about your work?"

This time Ned smiled. "Okay, you got me. My boss just told me he couldn't come to our product soft launch on Thursday. He hasn't seemed very interested in this project, and I didn't appreciate his not making time for this pretty important meeting. It occurs to me that I'm bored at work partly because he seems bored with, or at least disinterested in, what we are doing. That's why I said he was clueless. And now I am guessing you're going to ask me what I'm going to do about it." Again, Ned smiled, and I nodded.

"What are you going to do about it, Ned?"

"Actually, I think I am going to stop complaining and go tell him how important it is to me and to our team that he be there. If he doesn't have a clue about that, I need to give him one." Ned headed out after deciding on a time that his boss might be open to this kind of conversation.

A few days later, I heard from Ned. His text began with a smiling emoticon, and read "Boss coming on Thursday. Didn't have clue it mattered to me. Good stuff!" 

Good stuff indeed! Ned was just letting off steam with his remarks and it would have been easy not to truly listen. When both of us did listen, Ned knew exactly what to do. As a result,  I have the feeling that his boss is no longer clueless and both of them are a little happier with their work together.

Coaching questions:

Are you listening to yourself when you speak?

If you truly hear what you are saying when you complain, what do you intend to do about it?

Who else needs you to be listening to them?

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?

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