Selective Listening and How it Can Derail Our Business

by Judith E. Glaser

Try to recall a recent situation when you were a listener. It may have been a speech delivered by an executive, a discussion with a subordinate or an explanation from a peer.

Did you listen to facts or to specific words? Selective Listening and its effect of business
Did you paraphrase these words in your mind? Did the situation lead to new impressions, feelings and ideas? Were you affected by how the speaker stood, the volume of her voice or her appearance? Did the speaker’s emotional tone bother you? Were you evaluating his effectiveness as a communicator? Or were you so preoccupied that you didn’t listen at all, or only heard a little of what was said?

The listening adult’s mind is never blank or completely impartial. Our listening is influenced by events, relationships and experiences—all adding to what we hear and its meaning.  As objective as we would like to think we are when we listen, we actually are not.

Our physical and emotional states – being tired, angry, elated or stressful –  predisposes us to selective listening.

We hear one-seventh as fast as we think. While our mind has the time to listen, evidence suggests that we don’t always use that time well. Traditionally, ineffective listening has been viewed as a hearing problem. However, as we gain important new insight into the effect of listening well or poorly on the effectiveness of an organization, we recognize that ineffective listening is much more than just a hearing problem.

Listening is perhaps the most important component of communication for a manager. Done well, it will enable you to collect information for timely and effective decision-making. Done poorly, and you’ll draw the wrong conclusions.

Three of the most common listening mistakes that can derail our success in business

“Noise in the Attic” Listening. Like many people, some of us think that being a good listener is merely sitting silently while others talk. Outwardly, we appear to be listening. Inwardly, however, our mind is elsewhere or we are making judgments about earlier comments. We end up preoccupied with our own internalization or self talk.

“Face Value” Listening. Sometimes, we think we are hearing facts when actually the words we’re hearing are our own interpretations of situations or figures. This explains why executives, managers and staff sometimes differ dramatically in what they think they hear.

Interpretations are influenced by our experiences. The more experiences we have, the more we should be able to interpret what we hear from the speaker’s perspective. Unfortunately, many adults hear only what they want to hear.

“Position” Listening. We interpret the messages we hear by our position in the organization or concerns as a member of the organization. Employees, for instance, are constantly alert for clues as to how their performance is being rated, reading their own interpretations into messages. A manager might listen to her president’s annual report to determine whether her division will be financed to grow further. What she hears in that talk could easily affect her performance during the year as well as her relationships with co-workers.

Next, I’ll direct you to the kind of listening that leads to smart decision-making.

Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Judith GlaserJudith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist and the author of the best-selling book Conversational Intelligence (Bibliomotion, 2013), as well as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. http://www.creatingwe.com www.creatingwe.com, www.conversationalintelligence.com, jeglaser@creatingwe.com.

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