It’s shocking how hard it is to listen to people, sometimes. I’ve often noticed that I fall into a trap that great football coach and mentor Lou Tice called “lock on, lock out”.

Early in my career, my manager gave me some Tice tapes to listen to (yes, cassette tapes because it was in the 90s) about “lock on, lock out”. They describe what happens when a thought is triggered in your brain by something someone says in a conversation. In the moment you get obsessed with that thought, you stop listening and try to inject your thought into the conversation.

Hearing: the process, function or power of perceiving a sound.

Listening: to hear something with thoughtful attention.

I’ve worked on this a lot was over the years. You’ll often see me, in meetings, write things down on a piece of paper or type a note on a screen. This helps me quickly hold that thought and stay engaged in the importance of the conversation.

The Pitfalls of Locking Out

By the look in your eyes, and the words shaping on your lips, the other person knows you’re not really listening. They feel locked out as we lock on to our triggered thought, and demoralized because they are not being heard.

Things gets worse when we then start an argument to defend our thought and dispute what they are saying.

I recently had a conversation with an amazing group of inspiring, passionate, driven, smart and caring leaders. The issue was they had become four-year olds in a trigger festival – each defending their corner of the sandbox. Instead of looking for common ground and higher purpose, they all locked on and locked out. This turned into a set of  defensive arguments that really damaged their relationships. It took individual conversations and group facilitation to help them realize that they were, once they started listening to each other, actually, in agreement.

It’s a common problem, no matter your emotional age.

In my experience, most people don’t listen – they are just waiting for their turn to talk.

We all want to be heard and respected.

The Challenge

  • In what situations do you find yourself most likely to “lock on and lock out? Think of these in all facets – Work, Self and Life.
  • When you have a different thought, what mechanisms can you use to stay present and fully listen? Consider writing it down, or letting it go.

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