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August 2, 2022

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; JAMES 1:19 NKJV

How do you listen? What does it mean to you to “listen?” As a leader, when staff comes to you with conflict issues, what do you hear? As a husband/wife, when your spouse comes to you with frustration energy, what do you hear? When a child is in distress, what data are you absorbing?

 Your relationships, and therefore your leadership, will only be as successful as your capacity to listen. And many people listen only for specific things, collect only the specific data of another person’s frustrations. However, by only listening cognitively, to the logic, or lack of logic, will give a very small percentage of what is really being presented. This preoccupation with cognitive communication is always going to net out growing separation, irritation, and frustration… ultimately on all parties involved.

 How many times have we heard a team member frustrated because they can’t seem to be heard? How many times have we heard a spouse say, “I speak up and speak up, but no one listens”? The leader will turn to the logical and think, “I heard everything you said. I just either don’t know what to do with what you said, or I don’t agree with what you said.” However, when we do this as leaders, we are dismissing the emotional drivers that are underneath the logical data.

 The Economist (LINK here!) surveyed over 4,000 professionals and found a “sharp divergence emerged between skills that the C-Suite executives think they need and those that their employees want them to prioritize.” C-level executives felt that technology and finance were the two areas where they needed to increase their skills. However, the lower ranking staff reported that their bosses need to increase their emotional intelligence and leadership chops.

 I find it interesting that team members equate leadership strength, or being a great leader, is about how the leader makes them feel as a contributing part of the team. What is clearly ironic is that these C-Level leaders would not be in the flow charts as leaders if they hadn’t proven tremendous skills to lead. So, what is the confusion between the two about?

 What team members, spouses and our children want from us is “emotional intelligence.” Or to be more specific, what they want is to be seen, known and searched within their own transference of communication data. The words we use often are incapable of carrying the deeper emotional happenings that the communicator is dealing with. There can be a powder keg of energy behind simple words.

 Let’s take a step back and think about our childhood. When traumatic, distressing events took place within our family of origin – when we are injured in our attachment to Mom or Dad – our brains moved to fragmentation. In the intensity of the moment, due partly to the lack of the development of segments of our brains, our brains processed the moment for survival first, and then how to strategize for even an illusion of belonging. Fragmentation means our brains were incapable of assessing the motives and intentions of our offenders. Our memories can be accessed with various details of the hurt. However, it is rare that someone is able to appropriately see “why” the offender did what they did.

When we dissociate data from the deeper emotional drivers, we lose most of our connection with them.

 What I am describing is the dissociation of facts from the deeper reality. We are trained to repress emotions and shut down the mind-mapping of the other person’s intentions. This in turn trains our brains to only listen to data. We tend to only “see” the other person’s ideas as concepts. We tend to only focus on the other person’s competence to articulate a position, a reasoning, or to sell and idea. When we dissociate data from the deeper emotional drivers, we lose most of our connection with them. And of course, people feel like they spewed words but were not “listened to.”

 Emotional listening is when we are equally, if not more, concerned about a person’s emotions than the cognitive data they present.

This month, lean into your own Story-Work. Listen from the heart. Learn how emotions are driving the cognitions of so many people you lead.

written by

Patrick Norris

Patrick Norris