The High Cost of Plugged Ears

Posted on March 3, 2014| by Geoffrey Tumlin

During a break at a focus group session I was leading a few years ago, a manager came up to me and started talking excitedly.

“Here’s what’s really going on here…” he said, as he began describing the company’s current troubles. Concerned that my precious break time was dribbling away, and convinced that I’d already figured out what was happening at the company—I was briefing the CEO on my findings the next morning—I started looking for a way out of the conversation.

But as the manager kept talking, a funny feeling came over me: What if he’s right?

By the time the break was over, the tables had been turned—I didn’t want him to stop talking. The manager had convinced me that, at the very least, I needed to reconsider my assumptions about the company’s underlying problems. He was giving me answers to the very questions I’d been hired to address. Based on his insights, I made major changes to my presentation the following morning, and the CEO agreed that we’d correctly zeroed in on the root problem.

The moral of the story is this: There are many reasons not to listen, but none of them are good. People tell us important things all the time, but we are often too busy formulating our own responses or doubling-down on what we already believe (or want to believe) to let the new information sink in. Failure to listen carries steep personal and professional costs, which is why astute communicators are also good listeners.

For more on listening, see chapter one of Stop Talking, Start Communicating. A free download of the chapter is available here.

Originally posted on mouthpeaceconsulting.com.