listening to understand / escuchar para entender

Listening to understand

How often do we listen to answer instead of listening to understand?

The absolute truth is that we already know what we are saying. Which means, in other words, that there’s nothing we can learn by just listening to ourselves. Listening to answer is just a matter of ego. And it prevents us from doing two important things, both for leading ourselves and for leading others. The first is that we gather much less information about other people’s perspectives, wants, and needs. The second is that we can’t improve our critical thinking process. No matter how good an idea is, it can be improved.

No one knows everything

It’s simply impossible for anyone to know everything all the time, even if we consider only a single field. By all, I mean not only the specific technical knowledge but also the contextual nuances, the people involved, and the implications. Work environments, and life in general, are complex systems with problems that probably don’t have definitive solutions but are best-enough solutions.

Understanding this is the key to moving from the I-know-it-all mode to the I-want-to-learn-more mode, and therefore the key to developing our active listener.

Listening and questioning

How can we avoid getting caught up in the need to answer?

When we work around the clock and have a lot on our plates, it is hard to find the time to stop and listen. Unless we understand that it can be worth it. We usually do a quick fact-check to avoid irreparable mistakes, but we don’t really invest in improving our thinking. And it’s true that not everything requires the effort.

But when it does, we have two powerful tools at our disposal.

The first is our curiosity. Remember when you were a kid and spent hours exploring something you liked? Curiosity puts our minds in the right place to ask questions. One of the best ways to learn is to challenge others’ thinking and let them challenge ours by asking questions. And the other powerful tool is listening to understand.

It’s very difficult to ask relevant questions if we’re not listening, so the process of questioning requires our full attention and active listening, which prevents us from falling into the ego trap. In addition, questioning with the goal of understanding helps others better explain what their perspective is.

More listening and less talk

Listening to understand is especially important if you manage people. If so, yours is probably the HIPPO (highest paid person opinion) when you’re with your team. The effect of giving your opinion first is well known. The group will often defer to the HIPPO’s judgment because they have more power or experience. Speaking differently can become difficult.

To avoid this, leaders should listen more and better, ask questions with the intention of understanding, and provide the information the team doesn’t know in order to improve collective thinking. Regardless of what our ego tells us, leadership is about creating the conditions for everyone to contribute to the team at their highest level. This requires active listening.

Image by Nick Fewings at Unsplash