are you really “listening”? some thoughts from the zen leader

I was having a conversation the other day about whether listening should be a core competency for leaders. There were a lot of interesting perspectives, but all agreed that listening… truly being present, attentive and hearing what’s being said… was paramount. But one important factor seemed missing from this conversation — you need to be clear on intent.

I consider myself a good listener. But I’ve found myself many times actively listening while “building my rebuttal” for what’s being said. Are you listening to truly hear, acknowledge and consider a perspective that may not be your own… or are you looking for the critical flaw? In my opinion, how you answer that question determines a good listener.

It’s very hard to change your own perspective. This goes against our very nature as human beings, as our own nervous system is wired for finding that single right answer. Our schooling as children continued to reinforce this habit: getting the right answer for 5 + 7, the proper spelling of hippopotamus, or the correct date of the NormanConquest (1066 in case you‟re wondering).

This is where intent comes into play. When listening, we need to stop looking for the “right answer” in what we are hearing. The Zen Leader calls this a “flip” in consciousness, and it occurs when one is willing to let go of “being right.”  To be a good listener, you need to make this flip. “With this flip, we transcend the dualism of this OR that,” states Ginny Whitelaw, “…and play in the pull of multiple forces.” (here is a further glimpse inside The Zen Leader, if you’re interested).

When you listen with this intent: of hearing, acknowledging and a willingness to be changed by what’s being said — THAT is true listening.

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