I have a story for you today.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was tired of all the small talk and flattering comments he received from White House guests during reception parties. He decided that the guests were never really listening to what he was saying. One day at a reception he decided to try a little experiment. As each guest arrived and shook the president’s hand he smiled and said pleasantly “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” To his amusement, the guests responded with polite praises, “Keep up the good work!” “We are proud of you!” God bless you, sir!” It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his guest actually listened to what Roosevelt was saying. The ambassador leaned over and whispered “I’m sure she had it coming.”
The point of this anecdote is that we often hear but don’t listen. We also often hear what we want to hear (eg cognitive bias.)
Another story: One father got upset and sent his small son to his room for being disrespectful to his grandmother. His crime? The grandma repeatedly called him “honey” and the little boy protested and told her not to call him that. When the parents finally talked to their son and actually listened, he explained that bears like honey and he did not want to get eaten by a bear. His young mind processed the word “honey” totally differently than what his grandma intended.
To conclude, here is a stark truth:
We are often poor listeners.
We get distracted. We interrupt. We look at our phones when we speak to someone. That is not active listening.
We listen to respond, not to understand. That’s not active listening.
We want to jump in and share our point, to disagree, or offer unsolicited advice. That is not active listening.
– Active listening requires an open mind, undivided attention, and holding your opinions at bay until asked.
– Active listening demands managing your emotions, enabling you to respond, not react to the conversation.
– Active listening means posing open-ended questions rooted in genuine curiosity, without judgment.
Active listening is an art. It takes practice.
Active listening is also an essential pillar of effective leadership.
If you’re a manager, a founder or a leader, ask yourself:
Is my leadership style fostering a culture where all voices are valued and heard?
Do I dedicate time to truly listen to my team?
Today on World Listening Day, I challenge you to adopt intentional listening.
Don’t listen to reply.
Listen to understand.