We tend to lean in the direction of those who think like we do. We say, “he’s remarkably intelligent,” about the fellow who has come to a similar conclusion as our own. If we want to come up with truly innovative solutions, however, we learn to invite dissenting opinions from those around us. This is neither easy nor natural. So we must develop the skill and awareness to become adept at it.
In The Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World, Adam Grant describes the downfall of what was once a great company when the CEO failed to invite dissenting opinions about the then new technology of digital photography. Polaroid was the company and the mainstay of their profitability was printing photographs. It was inconvenient to think people had changed so much that most of us would eventually opt for digital versions of our cherished images, so Polaroid executives did not inconvenience their CEO, Edwin Land. It was a decision from which they would never recover. Ironically, Land was extremely prolific in his career, amassing over 500 patents, more than any American other than Edison.
“It was a classic case of groupthink—the tendency to seek consensus instead of fostering dissent.”
We can find countless other cases of companies like Blockbuster, who didn’t invite or listen to other world views to stay viable. We’d like to think everyone sees the world and issues through the same lens we use but they don’t. Our strengths come into play as do our values, our culture, and even our age. If we are to be viable in such a diverse marketplace, we must learn to listen to divergent views with an open mind for hearing salient, relevant points.
Clearly this past election has demonstrated that people see issues and solutions differently than any of us expected. We cannot afford to dismiss the opinions of those who see differently no matter how strong our emotional conviction that we are right. Here’s a possible structure for having conversations of discovery where we learn from each other and take what we’ve learned to create something of greater value for the whole.
- Listen to connect. Judith Glazer, the author of Conversational Intelligence, sites research in neuroscience that suggests we pick up hostile or friendly brain wave patterns in as little as seven one hundredths of a second (.07). When we truly desire to hear the other person’s ideas, we must set aside any hostility or judgment and be fully present with an open mind.
- Listen to understand. Stephen Covey named this skill in his famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. When we listen to understand, we give up–momentarily–the need to be understood. That is, we give the speaker the spaciousness to explain their reasoning without interrupting or refuting their argument.
- Speak only to clarify. For the period of time we are in active listening mode we speak to elicit clarity as in, “tell me more about the results you anticipate” or “how long a time frame do you see this taking?” We refrain from derogatory comments no matter how justified they may feel in the moment. They would only serve to shut down communication.
- Give up the need to win. The only win in a conversation where you’re looking for alternate views is in gaining understanding of what those views are. We must be willing to set aside the ego’s desire to be right or smug.
- Take time to consider. Before labeling the other person’s revelations, give yourself and him or her the respect of truly considering their points. There may be a common objective between you. There may be information that had not surfaced before. See whether over time you find merit in any of the ideas presented or think they are worthy of further investigation. Thank the person for sharing their thoughts with you and don’t give in to the temptation to defend your own point of view. That isn’t the purpose of your conversation.
I recently heard a historian speak about the founding fathers of our U.S. Constitution. Today we see that document as a great symbol of unity and personal freedom. However, her point was that it was a messy process getting to the agreed upon language and tenets at the time.
For us to continually expand and improve as individuals in a nation that leads, we must learn to listen to each other with all our faculties to serve the greater yet to be. This requires a certain strength of character to master, yet we are worth the effort.
To learn more about how we help create more collaborative and innovative teams and leaders that inspire, visit our website at www.mypersonalbest.biz. If you would like to learn more about what your top strengths bring and how to leverage them, send me a message before December 15 and receive a complimentary strategy session.