Rethinking Listening In Collaboration

I would argue that if we want more productive collaborations, we need to rethink what it means to listen in conversations. In the old model, listening is what happens inside the mind of the communication receiver. When we "trained" people in better listening, we focused on the cognitive processing involved. In the inner game of listening, accurate listening is the ability to distinguish fact from assumption, knowing when to take things personally, identifying the feelings of others, interpreting non-verbal ambiguities and incongruities and assessing for sincerity.

The inadequacy of this definition is that no one in a conversation is directly affected by what happens inside other people's heads. We are affected by how they express their listening in valuing and devaluing our ideas.

In this context, the critical conversational dimension of listening is the quality of our listening responses: how we respond to what other people say.

You know exactly how I'm listening to you simply by noticing how I respond to what you say. My listening shows up in my responses that make you feel ignored, defensive or valued.

In collaboration conversations, three kinds of listening show up.

Deflective listening: we talk and people, without acknowledging what we said, simply say nothing in response, go onto their own ideas, they shift to listening to others or in get deflect in any variety of screen delivered distractions.

Invalidating listening: we talk and people get busy trying to prove our ideas are flawed, missing facts or lack relevance, legitimacy or usefulness in the conversation.

Useful listening: we talk and people explicitly affirm the benefit and validity of our ideas, add value to our ideas or ask questions that move our thinking foreard with considerations of other possibilities and implications.

The most impactful part of listening in conversations is how we respond to what others say and ask. How we respond is the only access people have to the quality of our listening: whether we are listening to deflect, invalidate or help make their contributions as useful as possible.

If we want our collaborations to be as productive as possible, we need to practice listening responses that facilitate everyone feeling heard. When people feel heard, they are more willing to hear. Only in a culture of rich listening is authetic collaboration possible.