When I talk about a blind spot, I’m referring to a habitual thought or behavioral pattern in your life that gets in the way of you creating a new habit. It’s not always a bad thing -- it’s probably helped you get to where you are today. But it’s also the same thing that holds you back from being truly great.
Though we are typically unaware of them, we all have blind spots.
We each show up with a tendency we fall back on when listening to others. Some of us listen to connect ideas, some of us listen to solve a problem, while some of us listen to figure out what someone is going to say next.
Each of us listens for something to do something. This is your listening blind spot.
For me, it’s listening to connect. In each conversation, I’m listening to see what connection I can make from what the person is saying to something in my life, regardless of its relativity to the conversation at hand. I’m constantly looking for keywords or ideas to latch onto as the person is speaking.
“You’re from Michigan? I know Michigan. My sister-in-law is from there. I did a half-ironman in Michigan. Have you been to Benton Harbor?”
It’s been a real gift in my life, as it’s helped me make connections by engaging in surface-level conversations with almost anyone. I’m able to quickly connect to something or some experience they are sharing. It helps me fit in, feel liked and worthy.
But it is also the number one thing that holds me back. It was the biggest barrier I faced when starting my business. I needed to not just make connections and be liked -- I needed to provide real value, and that only happens when I shut up, let go of my agenda and truly listen to my clients.
As a business leader, your listening blind spot is something that’s likely helped you get to where you are today, so it’s natural to have an attachment to it. But holding onto it won’t get you to where you want to go.
Take Yvonne, a client of mine who spent the first eight years of her business building it from the ground up. As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, she had to solve any and all business problems.
After eight years of running the business on her own, she brought on a business partner, Anna, and other team members that allowed her business to mature and grow. I started working with her and Anna during this new phase of their company’s life cycle.
In a session with Yvonne, she shared how she and Anna kept clashing on issues. It was frustrating, it held back progress, and she couldn’t figure out why it was happening.
It wasn’t until I was in a meeting with both of them that I saw it happen live. A simple question from her partner about setting a target for one of her quarterly goals sparked a mini blow up. Yvonne looked at me and as if to say, "See, this is what I’m talking about." I paused and then smiled as I realized what was going on.
Yvonne had spent her career listening with the intention to solve. It was so ingrained in her way of being that she couldn’t distinguish when someone wanted her to solve a problem or simply to brainstorm an idea.
Anna wanted to discuss and brainstorm the goal together, as she valued Yvonne’s opinion and insights. Yvonne thought Anna wanted her to solve the problem and was frustrated because she wanted Anna to be empowered to solve problems on her own, to take the reins of her side of the business. In Yvonne’s mind, Anna wasn’t being empowered because Yvonne was being asked to make the decision, to solve the problem.
Yvonne’s blind spot of listening to solve was holding her back from hearing Anna and from taking the next step in the growth of her business.
What is your listening blind spot? Some common blind spots are when we listen ...
• To determine our next steps
• To decide if we should pay attention
• To validate our idea
• To make sure we're heard
• To figure out what we are going to say next
• To prove ourselves
• To learn the other person's intentions
• To understand the issue
• To make our point
• To help the other person
All these blind spots, no matter how honorable they may seem, are still blind spots, and they hold you back from being present and listening to the other person.
The key to listening is to listen without an agenda, without a place to go and without a determination to make. It’s listening to hear the other person.
Originally published in Forbes on March 6, 2019.