Want to make better decisions? Want to achieve your goals? Want to make deeper connections with others? Listening is the key to each of these. But, have you ever stopped to listen to how you listen? Read the movie script below and you’ll never listen the same way again.

Legal Disclaimer: This is a purely fictitious situation. Any resemblance of the characters or story to past or current events or people you may know is purely coincidental.

The characters are an employee and her boss. The situation is a mid-year review meeting. The location is the brightly lit boss’s office.

Employee Thought Balloon: Really looking forward to this mid-year review with the boss! Not!

Employee: “Hi Sarah! Are you ready for our 3:30 meeting to go over my review?”

Boss: “Sure, Michelle. Come in. I’ve been looking forward to connecting with you on your review.”

Employee Thought Balloon: Ms. Perky as usual. Let’s see what zingers she’s got for me today.

Boss:  “How are you doing? How’s the day been for you?”

Employee Thought Balloon: Much more hectic than yours. I seem to be the only one doing work around here.

Employee: “Great. I’ve been busy with our launch initiative plans.”

Boss: “Great. I’d love to discuss those with you when you’re ready.”

Employee Thought Balloon: I’ll bet. You’re looking for something to shred to pieces. It’s been a while.

Employee: “I’ll set up a meeting.”

Boss: “Well let’s go over your review. I read your self-assessment and agree with most of it.  I want to take you through my comments.”

Employee Thought Balloon: I knew she’d find something to disagree with!

Boss: “Michelle, overall I find you to be a really strong performer. You have really good analytical skills. You have a strong drive to get things completed and on time. And you seem to get along well with your peers based on the feedback we got from them. They value how well you collaborate with them”.

Employee Thought Balloon: Enough with the blah, blah. Let’s get on with the stuff I’m really here for.

Boss: “Here are some of the developmental opportunities I have noticed.”

Employee Thought Balloon: Yeah, let’s go for the kill!

Boss: “I’d like you to work on a couple of areas of development. One is to develop your verbal communication skills.”

Employee Thought Balloon: Really? I’m not sure you’d be so happy with me verbalizing what I’m thinking. LOL.

Boss: “And second, I’d like you to be better at listening and probing to better understand where people are coming from.”

Employee Thought Balloon: Hey, I’m listening pretty well. Have I interrupted you so far? I’m getting the complete picture of how you really don’t want me here and are looking for all kinds of ways to get me fired….

Fade out. Before we move on to the rest of the movie do you see what’s happening? There are two movies going on. One in real time and the other in the employee’s thought balloon.  While the situation is a bit extreme for dramatic effect, how well is the employee listening to the boss?

Here’s the problem though. We are not aware that the movie playing in our heads is just a movie. We assume that movie is reality. The fact is that the stories we have in our heads prevent us from listening clearly. And the purpose of this blog post is to help each of us listen more closely to how we listen.

In this situation the employee comes in believing that her boss doesn’t support her. Her beliefs cause her to hear only the statements that are consistent with her beliefs. This is a well-researched phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance”. It is hard for the brain, especially under stress, to process any information that is inconsistent with its previous beliefs so it tends to disregard it.

Awareness of our “filters” (the lenses through which we see the world) reduces the static in the connections we have with others. When we start to see a situation more objectively it allows us to be more emotionally intelligent in the situation, make better decisions, act from greater objectivity, and establish more genuine connections with others. Listening to how you listen is truly a transformational tool.

Here are five leadership practices to help you improve your listening:

1)      Become aware of the thoughts you have when listening to different people. Notice your thoughts, feelings and emotions when listening to a person you like versus one who you dislike. How does this affect your decision-making? A mindfulness practice is great at helping you do this because mindfulness helps you to practice watching your thoughts with detachment and without judgment.

2)  Become aware of the thought patterns you have when listening to certain topics. Try the exercise above for various topics. Are there topics where you “zone out”? Dig deeper to understand why this happens. When your emotions take over, you stop listening clearly. Understanding situations that trigger emotions help you be better prepared.

3)  Ask yourself what beliefs you have found in these thought patterns and how well do they serve you.  What do these thoughts tell you about beliefs you have about yourself? In this example, the employee believes she is not supported. Dig deeper with yourself. Ask yourself how these beliefs limit you or empower you. My recommendation is that you journal about these so you can become more aware of the “filters” you apply and the beliefs that cause them.

4)  Ask yourself what are different filters you could apply? Trying on different filters allows you to understand the power of filters and just being aware of the filters causes them to lose their power over you.

5)  Try some probing questions to ensure you are correctly interpreting what is being communicated. Restate in your own words what you heard someone say and ask “Did I hear you clearly?” This will not only help them feel more understood. It will also help you clear up your filters.

Back to the movie…You get to write the end of the story. What does the employee do? What impact does it have on her success?

If you would like to connect with me to impact your leadership by listening more clearly, I would welcome the connection.

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Additional Resources:

How our filters can impact our leadership: Want Power? Dump Your Story

Henna Inam - Professional Photo - ColorThis article was written by Henna Inam, executive coach, speaker, and consultant.  She works with women to help them realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders. They create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, and engagement. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, UPS, Nestle, J&J, and others who know female leadership talent is good for business. To accelerate your own growth connect with her here. Connect on Twitter @hennainam.