News and Insights

Do you suffer from selective hearing?

August 14, 2019

A few weeks ago, while traveling with my family, I thought it would be funny to “prank call” my kids in their hotel room. Pretending to be the front desk attendant, I called their room to tell them that there was a package at the front desk for them. The first time I called, my 15-year old daughter answered, and she immediately texted me to let me know that there was a package downstairs for us. I then called back, and my 11-year old son who is obsessed with Corgis (the dog breed) answered. I told him that he needed to come down soon because there was a Corgi at the front desk and we needed them to bring it to their room ASAP. With this additional information, my kids came knocking at my hotel room door with excitement.

At this point, I was a bit surprised that they believed all of this. First of all, my “acting” wasn’t all that great, and I assumed they would recognize my voice fairly quickly. Then, I figured that they would definitely know it was me when I told them that a Corgi was waiting for them at reception. But, that wasn’t the case. So, I told them that we would stop by reception on the way down to dinner. 

On the way down in the elevator, I started speaking to them in my “front desk attendant” voice, telling them that there wasn’t any package waiting for them. At this point, my daughter caught on, but my son was still anxiously expecting a Corgi at the front desk. When we reached the ground floor, I broke the news to him – and he was devastated. His obsession and hope for a Corgi was so strong that he believed that someone had one delivered to the front desk so we could take it home with us. He didn’t talk to me for the rest of the evening.

I share this not to pick on my son, but to demonstrate how we (adults as much as kids) can sometimes get so caught up in our own thoughts, desires and expectations, that we miss what is actually being said. It is why two people can attend the same exact meeting, but walk away with two completely different sets of information/conclusions (and lead to subsequent frustration).

So, today, I share some tips for making sure you don’t let your personal biases and desires don’t cause selective listening, and that your reality doesn’t become so distorted that you expect a Corgi to appear at your next meeting.

  1. Listen for what you don’t want to hear. As difficult as it may be, we need to listen for what we don’t want to hear. I’ve been in many meetings where someone provided multiple pieces of constructive criticism, and then ended with a positive piece of feedback. However, after the meeting, the only comments that the colleague remembered (or, more likely, even heard) were the positive ones. 
  2. Ask for clarification. Sometimes, when you hear something you don’t want to hear, you create your own interpretation of the comment (often as something that is more favorable for you). Rather than creating your own interpretation, ask for further clarification so you can be sure to truly understand what was said.
  3. Watch what others say. Words are only part of the story. Body language and other signs can often tell an entire different story. So, rather than getting feedback over the phone, consider an in-person meeting or at the very least, a video call. 
  4. Bring a back-up.  It can be difficult to hear and absorb everything in the moment. We can also be so excited (or frustrated) with one statement/comment that the following ten get completely lost. To avoid missing anything, either record the feedback and/or have others there to help listen and take notes. You can then objectively review all of the feedback later. 
  5. Validate the source. Often times, there are many people giving many pieces of feedback – often contradictory in nature. Be sure to understand which sources should be prioritized and acted upon. If one sounds like a front desk attendant at a hotel, it may not have much validity.

I hope that these tips help make sure that you and your colleagues don’t engage in selective hearing. Otherwise, it could lead to much unnecessary suffering, pain and frustration – and people may even stop talking to you for a few hours.

As always, thanks for reading. 

POSTED BY: Jeff Freedman

Jeff Freedman