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Creative Communication: Learning to Listen, Part 1

It is well-known that in business and organizational effectiveness, clear communication is key. There’s a substantial amount of information and training available on how to communicate: books, articles, workshops, seminars, the list goes on and on. Have you noticed that the bulk of these resources are predominantly focused on what’s said or not said, speaking powerfully, public speaking, persuasion, influence, negotiation, etc.?

In other words, it’s all about talking.

Any focus on the other side of the equation, on listening, is largely relegated to tactics and strategies that are intended to set you up well for your turn to talk. Even the classic “active listening” approach is speaking-heavy: repeat back what they said to (at least appear to) confirm that you heard it, and then take your turn to talk.

What if your listening is just as crucial as your speaking? I assert that it is. More relevantly, what if what we think is real listening actually isn’t? What if you could create a whole new level of clarity, relatedness and power in your relationships and interactions- and the pathway to that result is being willing to see and acknowledge the degree to which you haven’t been listening? I assert that you can.

To start, I want you to listen right now. To what? To you. Take a moment from reading this, and see if you can “hear” the conversation that seems to be occurring in your mind. Right now, it may sound like, “What conversation? There’s no conversation going on. What’s he talking about?” That’s what I’m talking about: the constant stream of thoughts flowing through your awareness at any given moment. I know, it’s hard to hear it at first because we’re so used to it (and so identified with it) that it’s like water to a fish. It’s just always there! But humor me, take a look and see if you can spot it.

I want you to consider that that ongoing commentary is like a screen, through which all communications must pass. I want you to consider that everything that is said to you is filtered through that screen, through a mass of concerns, questions, expectations, opinions, memories, beliefs and assumptions. Again, listen to it right now. See if you can hear yourself commenting on what I’m saying, if you can hear your own (so-called) listening… It may sound like:

“Is this true (or false)?”

“He’s wrong (or right).”

“So what?”

“What’s the point?”

“I already know this.”

“This is just like…”

So, let me answer one of those questions now: The point is, you’re rarely listening to what’s actually being said- you’re listening and reacting to what you’re saying (or thinking or feeling) about what’s being said. Everything that is being communicated to you is shaped, constrained and distorted by your filters. You’re simply not dealing with people and situations as they actually are. And while it happens to all of us, it is nevertheless the case that interacting with a distortion of what’s happening will naturally render you less effective than you could be in that interaction.

If and when you are aware of this phenomenon in action, you have an access to really listening, authentically listening, and therefore an access to greater effectiveness, relatedness and satisfaction in your communication.

In the upcoming segments, we will further explore the nature of our filters (including personal, cultural, universal, etc.), confront the impact on our performance and distinguish some kinds of powerful listening that can be opened up from this new awareness. From there, we will get into the speaking side of things by distinguishing the “language of leadership”.

Until then, I invite you to really try this on in your work and your life. See if you can really notice and confront the degree to which your already-always-there filters pervade your listening and responses. Just be aware of it. Begin to imagine what getting beyond those filters would make possible in your leadership, your sales, your teamwork, your relationships. See if anything unexpected happens as you take this on.

We’d love to hear how that’s going, and we invite any feedback or questions that you’d like to share.

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