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Test Your Levels Of Listening

“The Chinese character for LISTEN includes the radicals for eyes, ears and heart.” - George Renwick, 2001, Summer Institute of Intercultural Communications

If 2020 taught me anything it is that the more we grow, the less we know. The global focus on COVID was an opportunity to leverage a shared experience, but on an interpersonal level countless people lamented more strain in their relationships.

“Why don’t they get it,” was a sentiment expressed on all sides.

The more different a person’s perspective, the less we seem to listen to each other, which is ironic since, “Difference is a teacher.” So what gives?

According to social scientists, the more difference we experience, the more we feel threatened. When we get threatened, it is human to either attack, feel attacked or retreat. The challenge is that those responses become a zero-sum game when people feel their view is the right view, or worse, the only view.

To identify what your normal level of listening is, start by noticing what happens to you when someone else is talking. Do you think about what they are saying or what you are about to say in response? Is it a feeling? A thought? Do you react with an opinion or an action or do you reflect internally? Then ask yourself:


Am I listening to messages for what they mean…

1. to me?

2. to you?

3. to the emotional impact?

4. to the family, workplace or other power structures.

21st Century leadership will require us to shift the microscope we have on Others (I’m right, you’re wrong) and pick up the mirror to face our Selves. The best way to start that process is to shut the %$*! up and really focus on what the other person might not even know they are saying.

One mirror is great. Two is better. Ongoing healthy self-reflection and feedback loops are the ideal. If you are human, you are biased. No point in denying it. The CALL TO ACTION is to lean into it by listening. The more we listen to each other, the more we come up against new viewpoints and become less of a threat to each other.

For example, some people may need to practice quieting their voice while others need to learn to raise theirs. For example, if you are used to being a problem solver and feel the urge to speak up and be heard in meetings, practicing not speaking, or don’t stop by people’s desks without giving them warning.

Respectively, those who take action primarily through reflection, may need to share more information with their more outgoing colleagues. Express needs.

People usually aren’t good or bad, they are just different. Don’t forget the words of Andy Reynolds, “People don’t usually walk out of the house and want to upset someone, so there is usually something else going on there.”

One of our levers, that is immediately available to each of us right now, especially when we see someone entering stress – higher levels of listening.

What mirror will you use?

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