Think you’re a masterful listener? While you may demonstrate sparkles of listening brilliance at times, it’s important to be mindful of the common traps to avoid that will sabotage your communication, relationships and results.
In Part one of this three part series on proactive listening, I poured the foundation of what it means to be an intentional, proactive listener, as well as a few barriers to becoming one. While it’s important to know exactly what we need to do to enhance and upgrade the quality of our communication, it’s equally important to be mindful of the dangerous traps that prevent pure, unfiltered and focused listening and cause conversations to go sideways.
The Inner Game of Proactive Listening
Do you listen more to yourself or to others? Do you listen with intention or by reaction? Do you respectfully and patiently seek to understand other people’s points of view and what they want in order to create a new outcome or possibility? Conversely, do you listen solely with the intent to respond with a premeditated rebuttal?
Are you forcing your own agenda to get others to agree with you? To compound this, as a manager, do you avoid listening altogether and just play the power card with your direct reports to get them to do what’s needed to get the job done?
You’re either listening with intention, clarity, care and an insatiable curiosity to learn or you’re listening with assumptions, fear, contention and judgment that distorts the message heard, creates communication friction, distrust and filters out the message you need to hear. This creates competition rather than the collaboration needed to foster that win-win everyone seeks around their personal objectives.
Here are 14 mistakes that limit our ability to become a proactive listener. Once, eliminated, you will build healthier relationships, sell more, coach better and win big.
14 Mistakes that Limit Our Ability to Proactively Listen
1. Do you listen from abundance or scarcity? Fear or pleasure? Hate or love? Resistance or openness, Trust or distrust? Judgement or acceptance? Intentional or passive? Fact or assumption based? In the moment or from the past, prior experiences? The point is, this is the inner game of intentional listening. That is, where you come from in your thinking is what you will focus on. And what you focus on will manifest in every conversation, in your life, and in your relationships.
2. Are you a multi-tasking listener? Seriously? Just stop, be present and focus on each person or team when you’re with them; nothing else. If you’re not present and engaged, it shows, especially if you’re having a conversation with someone while on your phone texting. It’s disrespectful, poor etiquette, demonstrates a lack of social awareness, sabotages results and kills trust. It basically says to the other person, “You’re not important enough for me to stop what I’m doing or put aside other interruptions, so I’ll dedicate only a small portion of my attention to you.”
3. Are you doing something else while the person is talking? For example, when speaking with someone, are you thinking about the next meeting, your personal agenda, how your’e being perceived, how much money will be made if you make the sale, the fear of not making the sale or presenting well, or thinking about what you’ll be doing after the conversation ends?
4. During your conversation, do you wait for a pause so that you can respond with you agenda, (Ex: attempting to push people into submission and agreement around your point of view)?
5. Are you an impatient, and assumptive listener? Do you stop listening and cut people off while they’re talking because you think you think you know what they’re going to say and as such, feel the need to respond immediately to what you think they may say?
6. Do you, “already listen?” Do you practice filtered listening? When you listen through a filter, your interpretation of what you have heard is based on past experiences or beliefs. We then take these past experiences and project them as a future expectation believing, “The last time I spoke with this person, the conversation didn’t go very well, so I’m sure it will happen again.” In essence, we’ve “already listened” to the entire conversation without having it, instead of approaching every conversation newly with a clean slate and without any preconceptions in order to create a new outcome and possibility. When you’re a victim of filtered listening, you create the outcome you expect based on your assumptions surrounding the situation and communicate accordingly. Consequently, the undesired, self-fulfilling prophecy emerges.
7. Do you listen differently to different people? Do you pass judgment based on what you see or know about the person, their age, status, perceived level of success, personal relationship, disposition, dress, their profession or their job title? Do you listen differently to someone you respect compared to someone you don’t know; such as friends, family, peers, your boss, customers, strangers, even a homeless person?
8. How difficult is it for you to stay quiet? Do you talk without thinking beforehand?
9. Do you fake listening just so you can get your comments heard?
10. Do you practice selective listening? Do you only hear the things you want to hear?
11. Are you mindful of the message that the person is sending apart from their words? Are you attentive to their body language, facial expressions, eye contact, tone, inflection, attitude, transparency, level of engagement, focus and disposition?
12. Do you allow background noise, distractions or your environment to hinder your ability to stay focused and listen?
13. When coaching someone, are you truly present and give them your full attention or are you thinking about the next question you want to ask them in order to guide that person to where you want them to be? (Hint: This isn’t coaching, let alone good communication practices. It’s called manipulation, in case you may be wondering why some people don’t want to be coached! Here’s a coaching tip. Let the last word or statement they share become your springboard for the next, naturally progressive, curiosity based question.
14. Do you practice the law of reciprocity? Simply, if I give you the respect and gift of my listening, then in turn, you will do the same. Remember, the law of reciprocity is always initially stimulated by you.
If any of these behaviors seem familiar, you are creating a barrier that limits your ability to intentionally and proactively listen in a way that will foster deeper trust and engagement, effective collaboration, stronger relationships and greater success. These listening limitations will also prevent you from maximizing your personal brand, your sales and leadership efforts, your relationships, your opportunities and your income.
In Part Three of this Three Part series, I’ll share several bulletproof, proven strategies that you can use immediately to become a masterful listener and a communication titan.