How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Our Listening Restricts Our Lives: understanding our listening filters
Guest articles > Our Listening Restricts Our Lives: understanding our listening filters
by: Sharon Drew Morgen
At a neighborhood picnic recently, I introduced myself to five people standing together:
SDM: Hi. Iâm Sharon Drew Morgen, and I use both names âSharon Drewâ as my first name. Whatâs your name?
JIM: Hi Sharon, Iâm Jim. Nice meeting you.
SDM: Hi Jim. But, um, no. Actually my first name is Sharon Drew. I use both names.
JIM: Oh, thatâs right, you just said that. Sorry. Nice meeting you, Sharon Drew.
SUSAN: Hi Sharon. Iâm Susan.
SDM: Hi Susan. Actually, my first name is Sharon Drew and I always use both names.
SUSAN: Oh. Right. You just said that to Jim. Sorry. Hi Sharon Drew.
FELIX: Hi Sharon. Iâm Felix.
SDM: Um, actually, my first name is Sharon DrewâŚâŚ
And so it continued around the circle. FIVE people - standing next to each other, and looking directly at me - didnât âhearâ me explain repeatedly that I used two first names. Well, actually, they heard it. But because the name isnât within their brainâs recognition of âtypicalâ, it was filtered out of their conscious understanding. And we all do this on a regular basis.
WHY WE RESTRICT WHAT WE HEAR
We love, live, work, and play amongst those with similar values and beliefs, cultural norms and politics. We choose partners, jobs, neighborhoods, and friends that maintain our world views and allow us to lead relatively uncomplicated lives, seeking, avoiding or battling against ideas and people who challenge us. To accomplish this our brains filter what other say to us (regardless of the situation) biasing the message, making inaccurate assumptions, or following our brains through inappropriate memory channels and neural pathways to places that were unsaid and not meant. We hear what we want to hear and filter out the rest: itâs not our fault; our brains do it to us through filters and language itself:
We hear others uniquely and subjectively, making lots of guesses and habitual (and potentially incorrect) connections and assumptions; we end up mishearing directions, rules, warnings etc., take away mistaken comprehension, make agreements weâre not aligned with, ignore important or relevant ideas or requests, and on and on. As sellers we hear people in a way we construe theyâre buyers; as coaches we hear people complain of stuff we know how to fix; as leaders we hear our teams convey theyâre on-board (or not) with our ideas; as change agents we hear rejection.
We set up our worlds to hear what we want to hear regardless of what Others actually mean. When researching my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? about the understanding gap between whatâs said and whatâs heard, I discovered the complicated set of physiological elements involved.
We unwittingly listen through our unconscious, subjective, and predisposed filters. Unfortunately our brain omits to tell us what it has altered, keeping us unconsciously rooted in whatâs comfortable and familiar. Biases (of which there are hundreds), assumptions, and triggers are major impediments to what we think we hear: our neural pathways, habits, and memory channels automatically get triggered by a word or phrase regardless of the efficacy of the choice and when there might be more relevant memory channels available. To fill in the language gaps, to garner understanding or to recognize a fight or flight situation, our brains unconsciously go through stages of filtering. Simplistically, hereâs our unconscious process:
And because weâre only âtoldâ what our brains âtellâ us has been said, we end up âcertainâ that what we think we hear is actually whatâs meant. Listeners always assume what they think they hear is what has been said. And where this diverges from the speakerâs intended meaning, we end up responding to an inaccurate understanding and never consider that just maybe we got it wrong. [Note: Iâm always amused when men tell me they hear what their wives mean âbetter than they do.â]
It all happens automatically and unconsciously, and we have no conscious ability to tell our brains what to search for during the filtering process. In other words, we hear a fraction of a fraction of whatâs meant (Iâve got an entire section in What? that thoroughly describes this nasty process.) and we then respond according to what we THINK has been said. So we might get self-righteously angry, or perceive weâre forgiven; we hear people as racists or healers or sarcastic or buyers; we feel slighted or complimented or ignored; we think ideas are stupid and opinions absurd. I lost a potential business partner who was adamant that I said something he found offensive, although both his wife and I assured him Iâd never said that. âYouâre both lying to me! I heard it with my own ears!â And that was his truth. His brain did tell him I said that, even though I didnât.
Communication itself is a piece of the problem. We assume our Communication Partners (CPs) assign words the same meanings and assumptions we do, further restricting success, understanding, and relationships. Itâs obviously problematic when our CPs operate from different norms (another reason we contain our lives to whatâs familiar), especially when they're unspoken or haven't been agreed upon. When I travelled in Japan, for example, I found it disconcerting that my CPs would quickly gauge my reactions while they spoke, then added a âNOTâ at the end of the sentence if my response wasnât what they were after, negating everything that theyâd said to make it more 'palatable' to me. Different industries, different cultures, different educational backgrounds, and even different neighborhoods, have different assumptions built in to their listening filters and communication habits. This, too, limits our worlds, leading to disastrous, or funny, results. Listen to this dialogue:
After an Identity Theft problem, my bank account had to be closed and a new one reopened. This is the conversation I had with the bank rep when he called to get me a new set of checks.
BANK: What number would you like your checks to start with?
SDM: Cool. Letâs see. One half? Hahahaha. Maybe 4,962?
BANK: Letâs start with Check #1.
SDM: Oh no. Iâve already used up about 100 or more checks.
BANK: Why didnât you say that?
SDM: You never asked.
BANK: Yes I did. Thatâs exactly what I asked you.
SDM: No, you asked what number Iâd like to start with.
BANK: Same thing.
Obviously, it wasnât the same thing to me. In order to have understood what he âmeantâ I would have to have recognized that this was âbank languageâ and have implicitly âagreedâ to cooperate with his assumption. But I didnât. I really never heard him ask for the check numbers I used. Indeed, I actually found his question fun until he pointed out that he meant something different than what I heard.
My bank story is a fun example of how uniquely and subjectively we hear each other. And due to our universal assumption that our CPs are intent on cooperating in a dialogue, we feel rule-bound to continue cooperating, nodding our heads, or say âuh huhâ to imply agreement and understanding. Whole industries train folks on what to listen for. Sellers listen for any modicum of need and ignore the underlying impediments to buying ability; coaches and therapists listen for the roots of a problem that theyâre familiar with, asking biased questions that potentially miss the real problem; leaders listen for glitches in compliance and miss the underlying mismatch in beliefs that will cause implementation issues. Net net itâs difficult to fully understand what others intend to tell us unless we know our CP very well and understand their world view and reference points. And even then itâs iffy.
Iâve devised an approach I call Listening Systems to circumvent all listening filters and biases (see chapter 6 in What?) to hear what our CPs actually mean. For those who donât want to learn how to do this but want a simple take-away, use this question at the end of an important dialogue or meeting: Do you mind if I check that what I heard you say is accurate? And remember: itâs just not possible to fully understand your CP in many conversations. Pick the conversations most important to you and continually check in. It will make the conversation a bit unwieldy, but at least it will be accurate. Or contact me â Iâve got a one day program that teaches teams to hear each other and their clients, accurately, without bias or filters.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the visionary behind Buying FacilitationÂŽ - a change management model that includes learning how to Listen for Systems, formulating Facilitative Questions, and understanding the steps of systemic change. For those of you wishing to learn more, take a look at the program syllabus. Please visit www.dirtylittlesecrets.com and read the two free chapters. Consider reading it with the companion ebook Buying FacilitationÂŽ
Sharon Drew is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling With Integrity, as well as 6 other books on helping buyers buy. She is also the author of the Amazon bestseller What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew keynotes, trains and coaches sales teams to help them unlock situations that are stalled, and teaches teams how to present and prospect by facilitating the complete buying decision process. She delivers keynotes at annual sales conferences globally. Sharon Drew can be reached at email@example.com 512 771 1117
Contributor: Sharon Drew Morgen
Published here on: 01-Oct-17
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