We are built for distraction and grow into listening (May 6, 2020 issue)

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I hope you enjoy this week’s actionable insights. Hit Reply and let me know what you think.

Reader comments on the personal story I told last week

Master difficult conversations

Learn my best tips for staying cool under pressure and elevating your leadership in complex times.


Hilary Bradbury, Principal of AR+ Foundation, writes:

“Sharing your experience of bullying is important. Bullying is pervasive and an important window on how to use power. Over the years I have heard that most men were involved in bullying as victims and/or perpetrators. Many women also experience men’s bullying in the adult form of sexual harassment. (Girls’ bullying of other women is its own topic.).  Either way, these early years shape us greatly. Nasty experiences can also be teachers. If we “compost” the bullying, it allows for developing self and others toward a kinder, more full spectrum humanity.”

How I learned to ask good questions

When I was 22 and doing the job a 40 year old did before me, I had what now we call imposter syndrome. I was afraid the senior leaders I was consulting to would discover my age and inexperience, even in simple phone interviews.

My mentor at the time gave me this advice: “Act like you don’t know anything and ask open-ended questions, and you’ll learn a lot.”

In many ways I didn’t know anything, but the advice still worked. Here I was afraid people would discover how young I was. What happened instead is that my age mattered far less to people than how they felt being truly listened to.

Why isn’t everyone better at listening? 

1. You are built for distraction. The human nervous system was constructed in an era when physical survival mattered more than interpersonal competence.

2. The personality type you (never) ordered comes with a listening filter. This filter decides what to let in and what to keep out. Mine involves questions like“Is this safe?” and “Can I trust this?” These aren’t useless, but they block out 90 percent of reality. Your listening filter may involve different questions, like  “Is he lying?” “Do they like me?” “What needs fixing?” or “Will this cause conflict?”

3. You grow into listening. This involves new habits. Few schools and organizations teach these.

Cheerfully real,
Amiel Handelsman

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