On a lot of my courses, one of the things I talk about is a much beloved theory of L&Ders – Active Listening. But I think I do all of the people attending a disservice. It’s actually at a point where I’m thinking of scrapping the term altogether. Why? It makes a lot of sense. It’s commonly accepted as being a core skill of effective leaders and effective team members. It’s also probably one of the most used theories by L&Ders across the business world. So what’s wrong with it? Well, essentially I’m training you how to manipulate those you come into contact with.
Run that by me again? I’m training you to manipulate others? Well, yes. I’m telling you to enact a set of behaviours that make it seem like your listening. You have to show ‘attending’ type behaviours, and you have to paraphrase and summarise. Together, these show that you’re actively listening. Allegedly. Actually, together they show that you’ve given the impression you’ve listened.
There’s a camp of people who will say that in order to learn a behaviour, you have to pretend you’re doing it first. And through practise it can become habit, and then you’ve learned it. I’m not so convinced. Not with a basic human interaction as listening. I think what we’ve fooled ourselves into believing is that we can learn how to show we’re listening and this will create an environment of openness and a collegiate atmosphere.
Well, not really. We’re building an environment of constructive comments, positive sentiment and good faith, but not truly through listening. More through processes and through the such like.
If we listen to others, we do it fully and wholly. We give ourselves to others. And we do this willingly. Not through compulsion due to responsibilities we might have. Not through a feeling of duty to the company we work for. Not through a sense of having to do the right thing for a good impression. Not because we have to achieve goals, or ascertain motivations. But because we genuinely want to. We. Genuinely. Want. To.
What does that mean? Is it being mindful? Is it being embodied? Is it being humanistic? Is it being an effective leader? Is it being an influencer? Yes. All of the above and more. When you are with your dearest and nearest you don’t actively think about how you’re listening to others. It happens. When there’s important things to discuss, you don’t stop and mentally check off if you’re paraphrasing or summarising appropriately. You give yourself to the other person. When you’re having an intimate conversation with someone, you don’t start taking notes. You just shut up and hear what’s to be said. That’s what listening is about.
We can’t do this at work. Because we limit ourselves. We limit ourselves because of perceived constraints and perceived barriers. When Bob came to your desk, did you listen? Or did you have one eye on your phone, the other on incoming emails, and your third eye thinking about the project you’re working on? I bet you did something like this. You think you were listening. And you’re fooling yourself. Worse, you’re fooling the other person. Bob may be no better at listening than you, but that doesn’t excuse your lack of listening.
I’d like to think I listen as I’ve described. But I don’t. I’m busy like you. Fools, aren’t we?