As the world and organisations become more complex, the need for dialogue, understanding and the willingness to check your assumptions and listen to points of view you disagree with becomes even more important.

A case in point.

In November last year, there was controversy in the Australian Senate when a One Nation motion invoking the language of white supremacy was voted for by Coalition Senators. The Government’s Senate leader, Mathias Corman, blamed an administrative error for it occurring, and the Coalition Senators voted against the motion when it was put up a second time.

Put the politics aside for the moment as to what and why it happened.

What’s interesting is the response from Senator Barry O’Sullivan explaining why he voted the way he voted the first time, which was in response to the Green’s Senator, Rachel Siewert.

He said: “I don’t know and I don’t care, because you’re over there which means I’m over here”

If you pull this apart what he is saying is it doesn’t matter if there is a shred of validity to the other person’s position or comment, he will disagree with it. He won’t take the time to check his own assumptions or to dig into the other person’s perspective, he will just disagree with it. In fact, he will automatically disagree with the other person just because they are on a different side of the ideological divide.

This isn’t about a debate of ideas, because he has already shut down his mind from considering there may be other perspectives.

That type of approach doesn’t advance us as a society, and yet this type of behaviour isn’t just found in politics. You see it happening in organisations too.

One work colleague doesn’t like another colleague and so stops listening when they share an idea. A leader decides they don’t like or respect a team member and so that person’s contribution is deemed less worthy. A CEO doesn’t like the view of a stakeholder group and so their advice is ignored.

It’s akin to the child who puts their hands over their ears and says ‘I’m not listening to you anymore’.

It’s not helpful. Taking this approach will hold you back from progressing as you close yourself off to ideas and perspectives that could elevate your decision making, problem solving and creative thinking.

Being a leader and an effective team member means you need to listen to the opinions and ideas you don’t like, and from people you don’t like or respect.

When you do, you will:

  • Find you learn something – about yourself and the other person
  • Challenge your assumptions and expectations of the way things need to be, which helps to improve your decision making
  • Expand your frame of reference and increase your ability to solve complex problems
  • Enhance your reputation as you’ll be known as someone who is able to build connections and forge consensus and collaborative networks

Being open to different ideas and hearing ideas that you don’t agree with isn’t easy.

I know I can be quick to judge and to see the world through the prism of ‘It’s this way’, rather than the myriad of colours and shades of grey in which we live and work. It is something I have to work on all the time.

It can help to have a trusted colleague or partner you can talk things through with. This needs to be someone who will challenge your perspective on the issue and encourage you to see things differently.

As well, meditation will help. It is through meditating that you learn to slow your mind down, so you are better at ‘responding’, rather than ‘reacting’.

Lastly, when you find yourself in a situation where you want to quickly shut an idea or perspective, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Am I shutting down the person, or the idea?
  2. If this idea was presented by someone else, would I hear the message differently?

TV host, Larry King, said: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

That sounds like a great place to start too.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].


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