Do You Really Hear What People Say?

In the coaching and consulting profession, we talk a lot about listening, but listening is not just the activity we do with our ears. It’s a whole, complex mechanism related to how we process information.

Consider that we listen through a filter that shapes how we interpret what we hear called Default Listening. New information embarks on a journey of emotional reactions, good/bad assessments, interpretations, historical evidence gathering, and justifications before one makes a response. The information we have been gathering our whole lives, heavily shaped by our core values, greatly influences the new information coming in, but to a large degree, we don’t operate as if it exists at all. Stored as values that are core to our belief systems, ways to survive, behavioral limitations, etc., this existing information has a huge effect on us, and usually without us even knowing it.

Most people don’t realize that they are using this filter and make these statements about their listening:

  • I’m an objective observer.
  • I am open-minded, fair and unemotional in my decision-making.
  • My past experiences may affect how I feel, but that doesn’t interfere with seeing things as they are.
  • I view and listen to the world as it really is, free from my own opinions and assessments.

It all happens rather quickly, but most of our day-to-day thinking and actions are taking place within this paradigm. It’s an automatic pattern done without conscious attention.

The following is what is actually happening when most people listen. Instead of just listening, they are thinking about the following:

  • Do I agree or disagree?
  • What is important to me (my core values)?
  • Does what the other person is saying validate my point of view?
  • Figuring out why it can’t be done or how I could do it better.
  • Or, I just tune out the conversation.

It can be beneficial to bring some awareness and curiosity to the responses we make inside this mechanism, especially when we are getting undesirable results. Recognition of the existence of Default Listening is the first step in truly hearing what others are saying. The second step is to raise our awareness of when we are listening through our personal default mechanism.

Examine what’s driving your behavior and thinking: How does this filter work for you? Does it help you or limit you? Review The Practice of Accountable Listening as you are working through this process.