Have you had this happen to you? You are on the phone with a ‘customer service’ representative and you are trying to fix an issue of some kind. The conversation starts out ok, but soon you realize that the rep on the line isn’t really listening to you. They are trying to force in key points from a script they have been provided. Their responses don’t address your concerns, they don’t address your issue and some of their responses don’t even answer the questions you have asked. You wonder to yourself if this is real person. If you are like me, you actually ask. “Are you a real person?” They respond, “Yes,“ and they continue to push their agenda and talking points. After some time, I accepted the fact that my issue isn’t that big a deal and gave up.
If you are trying to get a missing item refunded from a recent food order that you had delivered, the issue might be worth aborting, but if you are trying to get something costly or have a more serious issue addressed, the stakes are higher. The representative is not hearing you because they have another agenda. They have a directive to spew policy instead of solving the problems.
I am not bashing all customer service representatives, there are many companies that have created a ‘listening eco-system’ to ensure that issues are resolved in a mutually beneficial way. Many companies and their leadership, however, do not have similar active listening environments because they have invisible blockades that keep them from hearing everything that is being said both in words and nonverbally.
Leaders often have blind-spots or bias that affect their ability to actively listen and hear the substiles of messages. “We each show up with a tendency we fall back on when listening to others. Some of us listen to connect ideas, some of us listen to solve a problem, while some of us listen to figure out what someone is going to say next. Each of us listens for something to do something. This is your listening blind spot” (Levy, 2019).
Take a moment and ask yourself what is your blind spot that keeps you from actively engaging on listening.
- To determine our next steps
- To decide if we should pay attention
- To validate our idea
- To make sure we’re heard
- To figure out what we are going to say next
- To prove ourselves
- To learn the other person’s intentions
- To understand the issue
- To make our point
- To help the other person
Further managers and leadership may be relying on a hierarchy to get them viable information. Following the chain of command is mandated and at the top of the organization, only listen or get their data from those in a specific position. This filter is problematic, because those closest to leadership may have their own interest at heart and don’t really have the courage to speak truth to power. If a leader has established this closed loop of feedback, they are missing so much information available to them.
Related to this is that in some organizations, bad news is frowned upon. The culture is focused on putting a positive spin on everything and not to bring up negative information because that is seen as ‘whining’ or – labeled as a “Debbie downer”. Bad news or negative feedback isn’t a catalyst for change; instead it is used to place blame on individuals or create scapegoats. No one wants to speak up in this type of environment. This chilling effect keeps many silent on issues, holding the organization hostage to bad processes or practices.
Leadership sometimes don’t seek feedback because they aren’t willing to admit that they might be the roadblock for change. They have no-early-warning system to alert them to possible pitfalls. They don’t face issues head on, practically and without judgment. When a leader is blind to issues due to their lack of a clear and honest feedback loop, they often must try to tackle a problem only have costs have outweighed the effort to change.
But listening without applying our judgments or bias is hard. It takes practice and it takes time. We have heard about active listening and I am still amazed they don’t have a course in Universities to teach this skill.
Listening is supposed to be about gain understanding to help problem-solve. Most however, spend most of the time looking to protect, deflect or project instead of really listening.
Instead, good communication requires that those involved do these six things.
- Pay attention
- Remove judgement
- Share Understanding or Ideas
So next time you are trapped in a cycle of ‘unlistening’, stop and ask, ARE YOU LISTENING? And if they say yes, ask the person on the other end of the exchange to summarize what you said. It is likely there will be a gap in understanding because one of their blind spots was firing off in their heads. Don’t give up. Don’t accept that your issue is unimportant and not worth the effort because you are just reinforcing the behavior. Do it nicely but….demand attention. Demand to be heard.
“Listening is a multidimensional practice. It requires commitment and constant attention, and leaders cannot survive or thrive in their work until they learn that fundamental lesson. But even when they do listen, they need to remember that they can’t take the signals they pick up on—good or bad—at face value. Instead they must listen so attentively and systematically that they gradually develop a richly nuanced sense of the nature of their organization, its complex dynamics, and what it feels like to work there” (Bryant & Sharer, 2021).
Working with a professional, certified ActionCOACH business coach and help you develop listen and other skills you need to grow your business. Get a free coaching session at www.actioncoach.com. There are ActionCOACHes near you waiting to help you take your business to new levels of profitability.