Listen to Learn

“Take time to learn. Leadership requires foresight.” – Your Oxygen Mask First, Learn Like Your Life Depends on It

I love working with smart people and strong personalities – it makes for interesting conversations and tremendous insights.

And one of the things we start to believe, over time (especially me) is that we have good listening skills – but we’re usually just listening to find a solution or to make a decision quickly. We don’t listen to learn. We listen for the two to three things we need to move ahead – and miss the four, five or six things we need to understand the situation fully.

It’s a hard balance between taking time to understand versus what you need to know move quickly.

A friend best-described it as listening like a lawyer. And I’ll qualify that by saying listening like a lawyer who is building a strategic case, in the courtroom, when they have an agenda for the jury to reach a certain conclusion.

By the way, this is not a statement about all lawyers, all the time – it’s just an example of how, under some conditions, we listen to validate our belief in the argument we want to make. We listen to prove a foregone conclusion that rather than listen to learn. I know I’ve done it many, many times.

And, I’ll add that I love my business lawyer, who asks excellent questions and listens deeply, before getting into action.

Listen to Learn

When we listen only with one perspective (or agenda), we miss very important things. And it’s not only disrespectful to the person with whom you are communicating, it’s a disservice to you because you’re not available to learn anything new.

The alternative is to actively listen to learn, with a firm question in mind: not ‘how do I get Frank to agree to promote Sally?’ rather ‘does Sally have what it takes to be an A-Player if she were promoted?”

That’s a different question that leads to a very different conversation.

One promotes a foregone conclusion, the other is looking to decide the right course of action.

The Challenge

  • Notice when you listen like a lawyer when listening like a learner can be more effective
  • Try asking a few more questions to understand more deeply before coming to a conclusion.