Leaders: Are you living in an echo chamber of you own opinions?

Communication isn’t about speaking, it’s about listening. ~Unknown

I have no doubt that many people would argue with this quote—communication isn’t about speaking, it’s about listening—especially as it relates to leadership. If you’re one of those people, I’d like to ask you to press the pause button on that reaction for just a few minutes.

As I look at our culture today, there seems to be a lot of speaking going on. And when we don’t like the reaction to our speaking we speak even louder, and it’s being done under the guise of “leadership.”

I recently stumbled upon a blog post authored by Olaf Werder, lecturer in health communication from the University of Sydney. In the global blog The Conversation: academic rigor, journalistic flair Werder says:

Whereas the idea of the internet as a democratic source of information and active engagement was noble, the web algorithms that filtered what someone was exposed to along their interests created an echo chamber of one’s own held opinions. It effectively reduced communicative competency to engage in human dialogue.

On an individual level, we need to balance impersonal with personal communication, seek out and engage with opposing opinions on purpose, and try understanding the background for someone’s position by actively listening.

This goes beyond the freedom of speech idea. It forms an attempt to find common ground when talking to each other, which is not coincidentally also a definition of the term “community.”

It feels like most of us are intent with trying to make a difference, but it also feels to me like we’re trying to do it by a lot of speaking and very little listening. We have to find the discipline to show empathy. Yes, I just used the words discipline and empathy in the same sentence. I don’t know how we can be empathetic without first listening. And to listen first, for many of us, that will take some intentional discipline.

Here are just a few more quotes to illustrate my point.

Carly Fiorina (former CEO of HP and 2016 Republican presidential primary candidate) said, “Leadership is about making a positive difference and you cannot do that without empathy.”

Stephen R. Covey (author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Carl Rogers said, “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”

One of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

We are in desperate need of courageous, empathetic leaders who will listen, engage in human dialogue, and build community.

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