Seven Subconscious Habits That Sabotage Your Ability to Listen – And Lead

Guest post from Fred Halstead:
Years ago, I complied with my wife’s request to have my
hearing checked. She told me time and again that she felt that I did not
consistently hear her. I was surprised and somewhat reluctant, but decided to
go to an ENT. Everything checked out and the doctor told me my hearing was
fine. As you may have guessed, I realized it wasn’t my hearing that was
defective – it was my listening. That event accelerated my interest in making
listening a hallmark for me, not only as a coach, but in all aspects of my life.
As I focused more on listening, I encouraged my clients to become better
listeners and noted these positive changes:

·         – Increased self confidence

·         – Decreased frustration with subordinate

·         – Increased respect with subordinates as well as
their direct reports

·         – Substantial increases in performance and

·         – Greater efficiency, despite additional
listening time with subordinates

As an executive coach for the past 15 years, I have observed
how a change in a leader’s leadership style can rapidly transform a company
culture. Like a cascading waterfall, direct reports quickly emulate the
leader’s changes, and cultural transformation follows organically. Becoming a
highly skilled listener is one of the most important tools in achieving
remarkable transformation. A critical part of becoming a better listener is
understanding and then overcoming these seven habits.

·      A conscious or subconscious lack of
respect of others.
act of fully listening to another person is an act of respect. When we do not truly
listen, we are disrespecting the person talking. Our disrespect may not even be
intentional, but it is disrespect never the less. Just recognizing this fact
may inspire you to be in the present and truly listen.

Prior to meeting with a person or persons, think about what is your
purpose/motivation for listening. I could be to show respect, to learn, to
inspire or to…
The natural desire to talk. The fact is, for just about
everyone, it is more natural to talk than to listen. We want to tell others
what we think, what we did, and what we know. Therefore, be honest with
yourself how true this is for you, and give yourself a break in understanding
that focused and active listening requires discipline.
Action Tip: For the
next month, consider putting your curiosity into overdrive! Ask insightful
questions and observe the effect this has on you.
Judging others. Assessing one’s thoughts and
actions is a critical part of leading people and helping them achieve the
desired result. Judgment, as in judging another person’s value, beliefs,
intelligence, personality, or background, however inhibits listening. When
assessment turns into judgment, amongst other implications, it becomes so much
harder to really hear and to gain any benefit from what they are saying. 

Ask yourself: What could motivate me to
reduce or eliminate the temptation to judge others while listening to them?

Preconceptions and biases. One source of judgment is
preconceived ideas about a person. This bias stems from something you believe,
such as, “Every time I talk with him, he always has the same point of view.” “I
just know he is not very smart, so it is so hard to listen to him. What will I
get out of it?” As amazing as it might seem, you will learn something new when
you leave your bias behind and sprinkle in some thoughtful questions with a
dose of curiosity. 

Consider: What will I gain if I abandon
my bias when listening
? Be more aware of preconceptions that impede your
ability to listen.
all have a need to appear to be smart. Maybe even to “be the smartest one in
the room.” My observation is the less we worry about appearing smart and the
more we listen and ask great questions, the smarter we actually appear to be!
And, others develop an even greater respect for us. Another observation is
leaders known for their big egos are normally those who have the deepest doubts
about themselves. If you are a great listener, it is hard also to be known as
the person with the big ego.
Be aware when you are trying to demonstrate your
intelligence. Try asking questions to learn more about what others know. Prepare
to be surprised by the value of others’ thoughts.
Multitasking. In my Skills That Inspire Incredible Results (STIIR) program, this habit
always garners a strong response. “I have so much to do I have to multitask” can be heard spoken from the audience. Our
ability to think comes from our prefrontal cortex lobe where information
processes serially – where each new piece of information processes individually. Our brains cannot take in
multiple bits of information simultaneously.
Most of us can process information very rapidly, but not simultaneously. Simply
put, we are most effective when put all of our focus on one thing at a time.

As difficult as this might seem, try for one week to turn from the computer or
whatever might distract you from listening and give your undivided attention
and listening to the person who is talking to you. Notice how much it benefits
you and the other person.

Shutting people off. The
habit of disagreeing with a person and concluding that you will not learn
anything useful from that person is common. We concentrate on the disagreement rather than the kernel of
truth or the insight the other person may have to offer. When you shut people
off, you may miss critical information or knowledge.
When you find yourself shutting another person off, instead
become curious and listen for the kernel of truth or insight that the person
may have for you.
I have observed that high-performing leaders who make a
strong commitment to overcome these habits gain benefits far beyond the effort
required. Try it; you will be amazed by the outcome.
is the founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching,
the author of Leadership
Skills That Inspire Incredible Results
and creator of the performance-enhancing leadership program, Skills That Inspire Incredible Results
. He specializes in coaching
highly successful CEOs and senior-level executives who are open to positive
change and wish to increase their abilities as great leaders.
more leadership coaching resources at