Listen with openness

May 04, 2021
Photo by AllGo, An App For Plus Size People, on Unsplash

Let’s continue using our listening skills to connect with people who are different. Yesterday, we covered listening with empathy. Today, we will discuss how to remain open to new perspectives.

The human nervous system is only able to process about 50 bits of data per second, despite our senses collecting approximately 11 million bits of data each second.

Think about the implications of this.

It is physically impossible to have a complete picture of what’s really going on around us, despite what our egos think.

We are by definition selective.

Cognitive bias saves our brains time and energy by filtering out what doesn’t support our existing worldview. While helpful for survival, it’s not helpful for listening...or connecting with people who are different.

Few people listen with complete openness, because being wrong has vast physical and psychological consequences that we fear and protect ourselves from. Judgments are gratifying but damaging, because:

  • If we’re wrong, we’re the last to know,
  • When we judge, we don’t grow intellectually,
  • We dismiss otherwise worthwhile people and perspectives,
  • Others lose interest in us because we don’t listen, and
  • We miss important information.

While beliefs and opinions are intertwined with our self-esteem, the truth is they are nothing more than temporary hypotheses, held until disproved or modified.

Confident Communicator Challenge

To practice open listening, try hearing the entire message before judging. Do this all day today, carrying around a pen and paper to celebrate when you did it well, and mourn when you didn’t. Then move on, without judging yourself.


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