Most relationship issues boil down to a breakdown in communication. Think about communication in these terms: The sender has to convey a message clearly and succinctly. The receiver needs to be present, listen to the message, make sense of it, interpret the intent correctly, and understand the next step. What could possibly go wrong? In addition, communication channels, timing, and other environmental factors interplay in communication effectiveness. No wonder issues in communication are at the core of so much frustration, angst and confusion.
‘People often think they’re talking to each other when they’re really talking past each other. They carry on monologues, not dialogues.’—Judith Glaser
Ego kills listening
Sam began to realise the voice he listened to the most was the one in his head. His ego was bigger than he thought. I asked Sam: How can you truly listen to someone else when your actual goal is to have them agree with you and validate your point of view?
We all have listening blind spots
Judith Glaser, an American Organizational Anthropologist, developed Conversational IQ. Conversational IQ is about communicating in a way that builds trust, integrity, empathy and good judgment¹. These are great leadership benchmarks. Glaser’s research identified five listening blind spots, which I’m sure you’ll relate to from your experiences with others and through simply knowing about yourself.
Blind spot #1: The first blind spot involves an assumption that others see what we see, feel what we feel, and think what we think.
It’s easy to assume that everyone should think like we do, and therefore see things that same way. When we get fixed to our point of view, and want to be right about it, we lack the perspective to connect to others and realise they see and experience the world differently. Winning feels good but at what cost to the relationship and the feelings of someone else?
Blind spot #2: The failure to realise that fear, trust and distrust change how we see and interpret reality and, therefore, how we talk about it.
It’s easy to believe that our emotions and feelings don’t change our reality and that our perceptions are always accurate. They aren’t. When we are emotionally charged or perceive we are in an environment of distrust, our brain releases the chemical cortisol, which keeps us alert. This closes down the prefrontal cortex of our brain (which gives us access to empathy and strategic thinking for example), which changes how we experience something. In short, when we’re emotionally charged, we experience a conversation differently.
Blind spot #3: An inability to stand in each other’s shoes when we are fearful or upset.
This blind spot follows on from #2. When we are fearful or emotionally charged, we lose our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. As a result, we stay self-focused rather than others- focused.
Blind spot #4: The assumption that we remember what others say, when we actually remember what we think about what others say.
We decide that what we remember is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But this isn’t true. Glasser’s research revealed that we drop out of conversations every 12 to 18 seconds to process what is being said. Therefore, any conversation could have three realities: what you remember, what they remember and what was actually said.
Blind spot #5: The assumption that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact, it resides in the listener.
We assume that when people are listening, they are understanding our messages in the way we want them to. For people to understand us though, they draw from their reference points to create their understanding. In other words, people may be listening carefully to what you say, yet they are ‘understanding’ something different. In all communication, the meaning resides with the listener, not the speaker. Therefore checking for understanding is an important step in the communication process.
Bringing it all together
The silver bullet for these blind spots is your self-awareness: being aware of how your thinking preferences might bias or impact your listening; managing your emotional state; tuning back in when you find yourself not listening actively; and asking open questions to help you navigate conversations and create conversations more easily. Which of these blind spots are you going to become more aware of? I’d love to know.