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  • Writer's pictureMaria Wade

Throwing Out Old Assumptions: How to Listen Differently

Have you ever thought about the way you listen to the people in your lives? I mean, really thought about it? If you observe this, you will begin to notice that we often discount the opinions and perspectives of the ones closest to us.

Why is this?

We make assumptions. We believe we understand their behavior patterns and habits. We believe, as a result of this knowledge, that we can predict their words and their thoughts.

We hear them but we aren’t actually listening.

Not surprisingly, this has a great impact on both ourselves and on our partnerships. We miss opportunities to get insights, to learn, to make informed decisions and to strengthen and deepen our relationships.

After all, we have good reason to tune out and be easily irritated. Don’t we? These are our partners, children, parents, friends, colleagues, partners… the people we talk to day in and day out…. Right?

In reality, the words of the people closest to you have more power than we give credit. These are the individuals who know you best. They can ignite an insight inside of you that you might never imagine on your own.

How does this play out?

Are you curious what this might look like in different facets of your life?

- As a leader, you may make assumptions or hold on to some unconscious bias about the people closest to you. Are you discounting the opinions of people on your team because you have pigeon-holed them and their perspective? Or, simply because they are more “junior” than you?

- In your personal life, family/friends are what many of us ascribe as having the biggest value and impact on us, but on the other hand, our actions reflect that we don’t take time to foster and develop these relationships because they are such a “given”. Family dynamics can be complicated, and each situation is unique. Consider how you are showing up, listening actively and being present for the conversations with those in your household, immediate family and circle of friends.

- And, finally, to my fellow coaches: when we work with the same client for a long period of time, we can fall into the trap of sessions becoming too predetermined. We don’t ask enough. We stop being curious. This is a mistake. We work with our clients on their development, and this client today is not the same client as they were yesterday. This is a good reminder for all of us to interact with them in this manner.

So, what do we do?

There’re a few very simple actions you can take to check yourself when it comes to conversations with those closest to you.

  1. Think before you listen. If you are heading into a conversation with someone where you know you will be asking for advice or getting someone’s perspective, take a very brief moment to set an intention for being open to receiving what they have to say with as little expectation as possible. Remind yourself that because they are close to you, there may be a subconscious reaction to tune them out which can help you guard against that.

  2. Stay focused on this conversation. Listen as though this was a new friend or colleague sharing with you. Notice how you listen differently.

  3. If you find yourself making assumptions, take a moment to pause the conversation and ask a question (or a few).

  4. As you walk away from the conversation, take a minute to reflect without judging yourself and simply observe: How did that go? What assumptions did I bring into the conversation? Was I open to receive their input?

Do you notice a difference in how you think about your interactions after this reflection? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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