By Tasha M. Troy
A few years ago, I experienced a misunderstanding and miscommunication with a student. I worked with her for a few months but couldn’t understand why she was resistant to my instruction and feedback—seeming even uncooperative.
It wasn’t until I saw the mid-term student evaluation of instructors that I realized my own misperceptions regarding this student. It turns out that she had gotten the impression that I disliked her on a personal level. This quite upset me because it was both untrue and not the impression I aim to give my students.
When You’re Wrong, It’s Never Apparent Right Away
As the instructor, it was my responsibility to correct the situation; once I did, the final few months were very positive with this student.
If I had maintained my perception of myself as concerned about my students and hadn’t been open to discovering and correcting the misconceptions, the outcome for this student would not have been as positive.
Kathryn Schulz, in her TED Talk “On being wrong,” points out that being wrong feels like being right—until we realize our mistake. We often get so wrapped up in our own perspective that we don’t consider the possibility that a different perspective might give a clearer picture of the situation.
Of course, there are foundational truths that should not be diluted, but it is my observation that most disagreements don’t fall under that classification. Rather, most seem to be over a question of perspective or priorities, and these are subjective. You can only comprehend the bigger picture by listening to others, by understanding other perspectives.
The Four Levels of Listening
Mark Goulston and John Ullmen, in their book Real Influence, argue that, in order to exert influence, you must also be influenceable—which means hearing out others’ perspectives and ideas.
However, they don’t mean any type of listening; they describe four levels of listening:
- avoidance listening, or listening without giving your attention to the speaker
- defensive listening, or listening to respond
- problem-solving listening, or listening to accomplish a task
- connective listening, or listening to understand and build relationship
Goulston and Ullmen point out that if you are not willing to engage in connective (or conscious) listening, to hear others’ ideas and keep an open mind, your listeners are not likely to afford that consideration to you.
Seeing Conflict as a Growth Opportunity
This doesn’t mean that you need to abandon your own ideas; according to Goulston and Ullmen, “It involves not surrendering our judgment, but suspending it.”
You cannot properly evaluate an idea before you’ve truly understood it, and this requires attentive, conscious, connective listening—followed by the weighing of ideas to see to what extent, if any, you should adopt the new ideas.
Goulston and Ullmen, in their book Real Influence, say that connective listening “transforms conflicts into fertile ground where new ideas can take root.” Isn’t this what we need to see happen in our communities and country today?
I encourage you to begin practicing conscious, connective listening with the people around you today.
Take It Deeper
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week. You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net
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