A recent article in Harvard Business Review noted that we are notoriously poor at offering accurate performance-based feedback for others. We believe we are fair in our assessments. Research shows that we are not.
There are many known and unknown biases and judgments that skew our feedback. However, at the root of it all is our innate tendency to be self-centered. Our feedback is less about the other and more about ourselves.
Part of the reason that we are so limited in offering valuable and insightful feedback is that we are inherently poor listeners. Again, we fool ourselves into thinking we are actually fine listeners while research shows we are quite the opposite.
Fred Halstead, author of “Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results,” says “It’s not particularly intuitive; in our society we believe in ‘me first.” Preconceptions, biases, judgments, ego, multi-tasking and our natural desire to talk all are barriers to becoming a good listener.
In many contexts, we make it all about us. Halstead says that becoming a good listener requires us to have to find a motivation to want to listen. And listening is hard work.
My wife and I just had a weekend away. While we sat at a local pub for dinner, I found myself looking over her shoulder at the TV on the wall and not-so-subtly watching the local news. Had this been the final seconds of a basketball game, my wandering attention may have been warranted (or not), but this was the local news in a town I don’t live in—something completely irrelevant!
Of course, she noticed my distraction but was gracious enough to allow me to refocus without much condemnation. We are poor listeners. Our focus is often on ourselves—our needs, desires.
I recently heard a story about a person who had a physical condition that was maddening in its progression. The doctor informed the patient that there was no cure and very little they could do in terms of providing relief. The doctor said that the best advice he could give was for the patient to find a motivation to live. He needed to find a purpose greater than himself. He needed to cultivate a life that was completely motivated by serving the other. Developing a life that was truly selfless was the only way to survive, perhaps an opportunity to thrive.
Might that be true for all us?
Our community recently lost a legendary high school basketball coach. The article detailing his life described how he kept many letters from former players and students. He had filing cabinets full of feedback. The notes were reminders of why he did what he did—pages of his impact in a bigger story.
The players and coaches recounting their memories of the coach talked about the small moments—the way he quoted movies and his love for his wife’s spaghetti. Relationship seeds trust, cultivating an environment for listening, blossoming into influence. It’s a process that cannot be rushed. We play but a small role in a larger story.
Words matter. Proverbs 21:23 says, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” The prominent author knew thousands of years ago about our propensity to talk first and, void of listening, find ourselves with heaps of self-imposed struggle.
In the song, “Speak Life,” the songwriter notes, “... with every syllable hope can live or die.” Why are we so driven by our desire to speak first—to tell and not be told, to teach and not be taught, to direct and not to follow?
I want to hear more. I want to hear the deeper desires of my wife’s heart. I want to hear the challenges and opportunities of my team at work. I want to hear the joys and the longings of my kids. I want to hear beyond the noise of what divides us, to hear the seemingly small threads of what brings us together. I want to hear the still, small voice of my God, calling me into becoming.
To do this, I need to get out of my own way. To not look over the shoulder of the person in front of me to the distractions in the distance. To see into their eyes, the window to the soul—listening, questioning, clarifying. To know and not be known. Learning and serving in the quiet.