The Art of Being Effective: Narrowband Listening

People have a singular propensity to place complete confidence in their own brilliance and clarity of understanding. I recently experienced an example of this a few a few months ago.

I was in attendance at an onboarding for a strategic project. The project could be considered similar in scope to IBM’s decision to divest themselves of their hardware business and bet billions on transforming themselves into a software and services firm.

Surprisingly, this example won’t be about the team presenting, but rather our dear friend Drake from the audience.

My go-to coworker, Drake, raised his hand near the end to ask a bold question: “didn’t we already do this?” Perhaps it was the simplicity of the question that proved monolithic to the presenter as they struggled to get a little more detail out of Drake. (Or perhaps it was that the vision invoked sensors and futuristic technologies that had yet to be invented.) Drake clarified “well, didn’t we make a website a few years ago?”

And there it was. Drake had only seen the ideas of others within the bandwidth of his own knowledge and would not consider the limits of that (certainly considerable, but finite) bandwidth. I ran into Drake after the meeting and tried to connect the dots with him, but he just sighed under his breath, “well, I guess we’re just doing the same thing with a different label. I wish I could be naive like you.” Rather than listening for how he might be misunderstanding, Drake dug in.

To me, seeing other’s thoughts in a limited bandwidth is unavoidable. However, the unwillingness to grapple with the limits of that bandwidth and seek to develop a broader receptivity stagnates learning and restricts progress in a dynamic, unknown environment.

This story could go on. Drake also struggled to understand the different responsibilities this role would demand. He thought of the greater autonomy as a license for power and was dissatisfied when others did not bend to his expectations, but that feels like a post for another day.



*I often take some license with Drake’s words and reactions to drive the point home. Don’t hate my androgynous punching bag too much.


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