My wife and daughter are hearing-impaired. They inherited a deficiency of the central nervous system that affects their hearing. Most people do not notice their impairment because they listen so well. With the assistance of hearing aids and lip-reading, both are expert listeners.
Another member of our family is listening-impaired. The doc says there is nothing wrong with my hearing. But listening has been an impairment I’ve been working to overcome all of my adult life.
Part of the problem is that I’m a professional speaker. I was trained to lead by talking. I’ve taken many courses and read countless books on public speaking.
For years, I didn’t know that listening – not speaking – is the key to effective leadership.
And even on my best days, listening is hard work – especially to people I know best. Listening to a stranger or a new acquaintance is much easier. But family and colleagues is tougher because of our shared history and the filters I naturally use to interpret what they say. I also struggle to listen well when the emotional level of a conversation is high. In those moments, a little voice in my head suggests that the other person will change my opinion if I submit to listening rather than talking.
Almost twenty years ago, a trusted friend pointed out my listening impairment. Pete is a professional communicator. But unlike me, he specializes in listening. His coaching has helped me to be a better listener. Pete gave me a gift that has dramatically improved my relationships and changed the way I lead.
But listening well is still a daily challenge. How well I listen today will impact people’s lives. So the journey continues.