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Creative Communication: Learning to Listen, Part 2

In our last segment, we began to notice the “filters” that constrain our ability to really listen in a conversation. If you took it on, you had a chance to see the degree to which we don’t actually listen, but rather receive, process and distort information through an already-always-there filter of assumptions, beliefs, concerns, frame of reference and overall worldview.

This phenomenon has a very real impact on our ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively in the situations we find ourselves in, whether they be in business, social situations or anywhere else. The basic idea here is that you can’t act appropriately if what you’re dealing with is not the actual circumstances at hand, but instead some distorted version of your circumstances. If you’re missing something that is happening, or adding something that isn’t, you will be left ineffective- AND upset, frustrated and confused about the source of the problem. So let’s explore some types of these filters further.

Universal. These filters occur on a personal level, though just about all of us as human beings have them. They include questions such as, “Is this true/false/right/wrong/good/bad?” “What’s in it for me/them?” and so on. These can be the easiest ones to notice if you bring awareness to your thoughts. In fact, I bet they’re occurring right now as you read this.

Cultural. This is the mass of views that we inherit as we’re raised (and conditioned) in a particular culture, whether geography-based (country, region and community), race-based or even familial. Your internal and external conversations are a reflection and expression of the network of conversations in which you operate in life. This is the source of most of the “This is how we do ____ around here” and “You know how they are” conversations as well as the origin of our ethical and moral positions.  The ones we assume as our own virtually disappear into the background of our individual experience; water to the fish.

Gender. This is fairly obvious as an idea, and well chronicled in the mass of literature on relationships (think Mars and Venus). Even so, it is easy to miss or lose sight of the impact on our everyday interactions. Some of these filters are rooted in our very biology- hard-wired as they say- and some are actually rooted in our culture, though they have been in place for so long that it really does seem like it’s just the way it is (you could call that distinction male/female vs. masculine/feminine).

Personal.  This includes your view/opinion of yourself, as well as the individual, past-based frame of reference you have for any given specific situation. Frame-of-reference is routinely thought of as memory- that is, I’m acting based on what happened before in a similar situation. Actually, our action in that case is correlated with an incomplete memory of our interpretation of our limited and distorted perception of what happened. A little less reliable, yes?

This list is by no means exhaustive. Also, you may notice that while clearly distinct, these types of filters are not actually separate from each other in our experience. In other words, our frame of reference is influenced by our view of ourselves, which is influenced by our gender, which (again) is rooted in our culture, which developed from a group of individuals dealing with the universal concerns we all share.

That is the multi-layered, entangled set of screens through which we “listen”. Is it any wonder that there is so much difficulty and ineffectiveness in interactions, teamwork and any coordinated action?

Your business-and life- is populated, inside and out, with people (including YOU) mistaking their own individual “worlds” for the world… and then wondering what the problem is!

So, in the next few weeks, see if you can really notice your own filters and the impact they have on your performance, your experience and your relationships. Start to get “outside” of your already-always-listening. These questions can be useful for that:

“How would this person/situation occur for me if I was Asian/ a woman/ from the West Coast/ etc.?”

“What assumptions am I operating on right now as if they’re True? What if they’re not?”

“How must this be for them, given their view and all their filters?

Continue to engage with your own views, filters and listening and see what you discover. In our next segment, we will explore what it is, and how, to really, authentically listen. This is the foundation from which truly extraordinary communication, leadership and performance are possible. In the meantime, as always, please feel free to be in communication!

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