Listening and Self-Delusion

Published on September 12, 2013 by

I received a group email from a colleague the other day and I couldn't stop laughing. The topic of the email was on communication and this is how he summed up his communications skills:

"I love to hear myself talk. It's nice to have others hear me sometimes, too."  

He was joking, but it got me to thinking.

In the past week, I've had to give feedback to two newer clients about their need to listen more and talk less. When I broached the subject, guess what happened? Each client automatically disagreed with me--they argued for the "fact" that they were great in the listening department.

Of course, their automatic response showed otherwise. A great listener doesn't automatically disagree or defend themselves when they hear something they don't like. They ask questions instead. And they listen. Then they ask more questions. Then they listen some more. How many people do you know that do that?

Several years ago when I was traveling across North America doing corporate seminars on emotional intelligence, leadership performance improvement, I would often ask, "Are you a good listener?" I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you that almost everyone raised a hand to answer the question. The truth is that most of us are NOT great at listening--and not many of us are even good at it. We just think we are.

How can we know how good we are (or aren't) in the listening department? Only by asking those around us. Even that doesn't guarantee we will find out where we rate as listeners. It's not easy to tell someone they talk more than they listen or to tell them that they get defensive about their opinions? Who is going to tell us the truth--because we can't rely on ourselves for that, not when it comes to our listening skills.

I will never forget they day many years ago when I asked a colleague for some feedback, positive and negative. After listening the positive, I had to help him feel safe enough to venture into the "negatives." The first thing he said was, "You have a tendency to want to be right all the time." My automatic response? "What are you talking about? No I don't!" Of course, the "What are you talking about?" wasn't really a question! In fact, I wasn't really listening--I just thought I was.


  1. Steve

    Man, this is great stuff. Makes me want to be a better listener! I tend to think I'm a good listener, and people have told me that's a strength of mine. But, it doesn't hurt to keep a humble perspective. I could always listen better, I'm sure. I'll ask my wife what she thinks.

    • Alan Allard

      Thanks for your comments Steve. If others have told you that you are a good listener, that's a good sign. Next time someone tells you that, you might want to ask them why they think so.

  2. Jonathan

    What a challenging article! Being a great listener requires patience and humility. Sometimes it is easy when I am fully rested, comfortable, and don't have anything demanding my attention. It seems being on vacation on a beach with a margarita would provide the proper environment... 😉

    • Alan Allard

      Jonathan, I like your solution! Richard Branson is known for having meetings on the beach frequently--not so sure about the margarita's, but I wouldn't be surprised. You're right about listening being easier when we are rested, comfortable and when we aren't distracted. Listening requires great focus and that requires great energy.

  3. TJ


    I really value feedback from others. I mean what the worst that can happen. I guess I could learn that I am not perfect. Lol, then I get to improve.

    I have used your suggestions and they work. Asking questions also helps the person on the receiving end discern the quality of the feedback.

    • Alan Allard

      Thanks for stopping by and for you comments TJ. I too am a big believer in feedback. It's not that we have to listen to all feedback, because much feedback is unsolicited and given primarily to benefit the one given feedback. They rarely have all the facts, have not invested their time to ask pertinent questions--they just want to sound off.

      The key is to know who can give useful feedback and to make sure they know we are open to it.

  4. Daryl

    doesn't Listening require an Interest, a Mutual Interest. Even a Tolerance; as listening can be at times painful; actually and simply a bore. As one guilty of talking too much often seeking feedback.

    Thanks for the post

    • Alan Allard

      Thanks for your comment Daryl. Listening does require an interest, but that interest can be in the other person, not necessarily in what the other person is saying. Sometimes we listen to someone because we care about them, but not so much about the topic they're talking about.

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