“Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.”
— Dr. Larry L. Barker, Author & Executive Coach
I think of a few people engagements I have had in the recent past.
An office colleague comes in to discuss a problem that is likely to arise because of depressed business and enquiry levels from the Middle East markets. Our dependence on these markets has been high historically and remains crucial to meet our budgets. This upsets me. Time and again I had suggested that the division plans Sales trips to the region well in advance to renew our contacts with existing clients and meet new prospects. I sense this has not been done. A voice inside screams, “This guy is casual and lazy to plan in advance. He did not take my suggestions seriously and now when things have gone out of hand, he is running back to me with excuses. Why should I listen to him now?”
The other day, I hear that a market competitor has rolled out a series of innovative business initiatives in order to gain market stature and share. The CEO, known to me well, is a high school drop-out and has clawed up his way in the industry over the years. The inner voice returns, “There seems to be something wrong here. How on earth could this guy come up with such better initiatives than me when he has been so below me in scholastics? This is an affront and this guy, with such initiatives, is trying to undermine me.”
I am at this workshop and I meet an ex junior colleague who left our company some years back. I get to know that in the interim, he did his Masters and is now an Assistant Professor at a Business school. During his presentation, he waxes eloquent on Leadership and the need to envision a future that excites. While I cannot find fault with what he says, my earlier perception about him as a mere desk worker seems to stop me from embracing the concepts he speaks of. That voice inside whispers, “How could this guy, so much younger and less experienced than me, know more and teach me leadership concepts? Accepting and acknowledging what he says would put me down. I can’t do that! I need to think of how I could disagree with him.”
Do you see how that voice inside me is my Already- Always listening?
Do you see how my Already- Always listening has led me to have preconceived interpretations of what is being said even before it is said?
Do you see how such interpretations create judgments and opinions in me even before the other guy has opened his mouth?
Do you see how these judgments and opinions constrain and limit my listening, my thoughts, my actions and even the possibilities I am willing to consider?
It is as if I get onto rails which then allow me to think and act in only set ways. So when my colleague approached me to discuss what could be various options available to improve business from middle East markets, my reaction was to blame him for not having considered my earlier suggestions. In the second case, rather than critically reviewing the business initiatives of the competitor to learn and initiate effective response, my reaction was one of non-acceptance and making the competitor CEO ‘vanish’. And in the final case, rather than gaining insight from my ex-colleague’s presentation, I had closed my mind to much else except look for logic to make him wrong in my own perception.
Dear Reader, can you identify similar experiences in your life? If so, do you see how our Already-Always listening constrains and restricts us from achieving that big picture empowered way of being that we envision?
What is it that sustains such Already-Always listening and the related interpretations within us? This happens because almost all of us are not even aware of the distortion that exists between what is said to us and what we end up listening. Since we are not aware, we also cannot comprehend how our interpretations may be distorting our perceptions. So we end up assigning disparate causes to our relationship breakdowns and suboptimal performance but never the core issue of how our way of being and acting have being negatively impacted from the distortion that landed for us in our brains based on the Already-always listening and interpreting we did. We then try and ‘fix’ this false cause, which is really an effect, leading us to go through life trying to put out one fire after another.
Does this look or sound familiar?
So what could we do to distinguish and become aware of our Already-Always listening so that it loses its ability to run us and our lives?
In learning…………. Shakti Ghosal
Acknowledgement: “Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership:
An Ontological / Phenomenological Model” by Werner Erhard, Independent & Michael Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.