This capability is critical to both coaching conversations and group work. Three patterns of unproductive listening are autobiographical listening, solution listening and inquisitive listening.
Autobiographical listening occurs because we are social animals who make connections through our own experiences. When we find common ground we want to share our story. In coaching, it is counterproductive because it moves the focus from the coachee to the life experiences of the coach. In groups, it wastes time because each person feels compelled to share their own life stories. It removes the focus from the group to the individual.
Solution listening in coaching comes from our need to help others. Instead of allowing them to think through difficult challenges and draw on their own resources, we give them our thinking and our answers. This creates dependency and can backfire when our ideas are not productive. In groups, often a person will jump on an idea and become wedded to it. By setting aside our own solutions, the group becomes more flexible and is open to hearing multiple possibilities
Inquisitive listening comes from our curiosity. As a coach, I need very little information as I am not the one doing the thinking about the issue. Ask yourself, “Is this question to satisfy my curiosity/need for information or does it mediate thinking?” If it is about information for you, set it aside. In meetings, as a group member ask yourself, “How much information and detail do I need in order to move forward on this item?” As a group member, my goal is to stay focused on crucial issues. Inquisitive listening can bog a group down in details.
This week, notice your own patterns of listening. Which of the three set-asides is most challenging for you. What metacognitive strategies are you using to set them aside? Pair up with a colleague and agree to monitor each others set asides, collecting data and giving feedback.