How active listening has become a distraction…

by | Nov 26, 2020

A women attending a virtual meeting from her home

What I mean by active listening is the type of listening which builds understanding of different perspectives, evolves a topic under discussion, connects those involved, informs, provides insight, enables awareness, and diagnoses a problem. Innately sustaining trust and respect.

With those attributes in mind, it is beautiful to watch or be part of active listening in motion. How it influences each participant involved, plays out broadly the same way regardless of age, gender, race, or nationality.

Active listening builds a connection

Essentially, active listening can light the kindling of trust, letting it flicker and grow, bringing into view vulnerability and authenticity and slowly building to respect and inclusion. It is a foundation of enhancing interpersonal relationships, connecting each participant beyond ego and assumption, and depending on the context, igniting the sparks of creativity, innovation, and change.

When we experience being heard, when someone connects with us through active listening, it tends to stay with us. Moments with family members, friends, great teachers, colleagues, or authentic leaders to name just a few.

Has active listening become a distraction?

But lately, active listening seems to have become diminished somehow, almost devalued, or conveniently replaced. Almost a distraction in the disruption, uncertainty and pace that has become the new normal.

This was evidenced when I was facilitating a remote culture change initiative with a group of senior leaders recently. Using Zoom to observe their behaviours and group dynamic, I noticed how quickly they stopped listening. As well as the Zoom screen they all had multiple devices demanding their attention and distracting them. In doing so, reducing their participation, undermining their connection, and generalising their contribution.

A reliance on assumptions?

They were distracted to the point of not being present. They had stopped listening and so active listening was effectively undermined. What was substituted was quick fire solutions based on multiple assumptions. The assumptions themselves ineffective and blunt.  

When assumptions clashed, relationships cooled, and positions entrenched. Given the time pressures, the focus became tactical and opportunity was squandered.

The other reality that emerged was that time pressure built significantly under the weight of numerous tactical tasks as the ineffective band aids created an illusion of progress but realistically served to only consume scarce time and reduce productivity.

Active listening had become a distraction, competing against the illusions of effectiveness and productivity that seems unquestioned and established.

The link to inclusion, engagement and innovation

Potentially lost is the ‘unconscious competence’ that enables active listening at pace, whilst still building trust and respect and sustaining the relationship as a priority. That allows the most challenging and difficult discussions vital to a future ambition to be experienced as healthy, trusting, and necessary.

Most crucially though, active listening enables so much more. To foster our inclusion, sustain our engagement at work and bring to light our ideas, those sparks within us that when combined between us, have the potential to transform our futures through innovation.

Real People, Real Change, Real Results