Do you enter conversations to listen for what will confirm your assumptions? Do you assume the responses to your questions provide an accurate representation of the full fact pattern – ‘good’ data – on which to base your follow-on questions? Do you assume your history of similar topics gives you a more elevated understanding of what your Communication Partners (CPs) mean rather than what they’re actually saying?
If any of the above are true, you’re biasing your conversation.
In other words, listening biased by your unconscious needs and assumptions keeps you from truly understanding the message offered and obtaining optimal results. But it’s not your fault.
OUR BRAINS CAUSE A GAP BETWEEN WHAT’S SAID AND WHAT’S HEARD
The most surprising takeaway from my year of research for my book (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard was learning how little of what we think we hear is unbiased, or even accurate. Indeed, it’s pretty rare for us to hear precisely what another intends us to hear: our brains don’t allow us to.
Employing assumptions, triggers, memory tricks, and habit our brains listen through our unconscious biases, causing us to unwittingly alter the meaning that was actually intended. In fact – and this is the scary part – our brains don’t even tell us what they misheard or misrepresented, regardless of our desire to be neutral when listening, and regardless of how hard we try to listen carefully.
Sound actually enters our ears as meaningless sound vibrations that get filtered on entry according to our beliefs. The remaining vibrations then get made into electrochemical signals that seek the ‘closest’ match among our 100 trillion existing synapses that seem to be ‘similar-enough’. And – here’s the annoying part – the signals that don’t correspond exactly with the existing circuitry get deleted, without us knowing, leaving us assuming that what we’ve heard is accurate. Indeed there’s a good chance what we think we’ve heard is merely some fraction of accurate, certainly some version of what we’ve heard before.
So your CP might say ABC and your brain tells you they said ABL without even mentioning it omitted D, E, F, etc. and just presenting the misinterpreted message as fact. I once lost a business partner because he ‘heard’ me say X when three of us confirmed I said Y. “I was right here! Why are you all lying to me! I KNOW she said that!” And he walked out in a self-generated rage, never to speak to me again. This makes it tough for any communication where mutual understanding is so important.
Obviously as sellers, coaches, leaders, or influencers of any kind we cannot ever know our CPs innermost thinking. And given variances in our beliefs/values, background, mental models, etc., and entering conversations with our own goals and unconscious biases, there’s a chance we end up unintentionally restricting the full range of viable outcomes. In other words, our natural inability to hear others accurately causes us miscommunication and flawed understanding. Not to mention lost business and lost relationships.
Net net, we unwittingly base our conversation, goals, questions, intuitive responses and offerings on an assumption of what we think has been said. We have the best chance of success with those whose biases match our own, like an old friend or family member. Otherwise it’s necessary to check with your CP to make sure what you thought you heard is accurate. [Note: for those who want to manage this problem, I’ve developed a work-around in Chapter 6 of What?)
ENTERING CONVERSATIONS WITHOUT BIAS
Now that we know our brains set us up to hear Others according to our own histories, let’s go back to the problems incurred by entering conversations with personal biases:
Here are some ideas to help you create conversations that avoid restriction:
By listening with an ear that hears avenues to serve, to understand what’s been said without unconscious bias, you can truly serve your Communication partner.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen March 20th, 2023
Posted In: Listening