Active Listening (Part 4): Mirror, Mirror…In My Ears???

A Critical Doer has a servant spirit


 The problem with your ears is that they’re too close to your brain.  The brain has a processor for thinking, but it also has an ego that can obstruct thinking by superimposing our own image on a speaker.  The critical thinking error this causes is known as “mirror imaging.”

In our first 3 posts on active listening, you learned how to HEAR (halt your tongue, ask the right questions, empathize, recap), avoiding the logic dysfunction of mutual exclusion, and listening with an empathetic ear.  You can’t wait to add value to others through active listening.  In fact, you’re so anxious that you can’t wait to share your own perspectives and utter the deadly phrase “if I were you.”

In that phrase…”if I were you”…you’ve begun the slippery slope of mirror imaging.  You can probably already see where this phrase would lead to poor decisions.  The fact of the matter is…you’re not the other person.  Mirror imaging your values, experiences, culture, and importantly lack of accountability for the outcome of the decision can lead someone looking to you for mentoring astray.  It can also lead you astray in analyzing the likely actions of a business competitor or negotiating partner.

If you’re correctly employing empathy as discussed in our last post, the correct question leaves you totally out of the equation.  By asking “given this person’s experiences, culture, values, resources, choices, personality…what is he or she most likely to do?”

Framing the question this way helps to see the world through another’s eyes.  “If I were you” only puts your eyes into another person…it doesn’t change the view one bit.  You are far more likely to offer good advice or correctly surmise the actions of a competitor if you listen carefully to another’s experiences and treat it as data for decision making.  The other person may not have complete data…you can add to it, offer alternative ways of interpreting the data, or coach a person through a logic tree that will produce a high quality decision.

I haven’t found a technique that enhances the quality of decision making or adds value to others in their decision making more than active listening.  If you consistently make good decisions and help others do the same, you are going to accomplish a lot through sound thinking and be well on the way to becoming a Critical Doer.

As we wrap up the active listening series, your challenge is to take a fresh look at the way you engage people.  When others try to talk to you, is your reflexive action to jump in with “that reminds me of the time I…?”  When offering advice, is it prefaced with “if I were you?”  If so, you may be limiting your own and your organization’s capacity for accomplishment.

If the people around you are doors, active listening is the key that unlocks their full potential for accomplishment…as well as yours.  Put the four lessons on active listening into motion and watch an immediate improvement to your bottom line and an increase in human fulfillment.  It’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: April 16, 2015 — 9:48 am