Yesterday, I was in a fascinating discussion and I made a huge mistake. I responded, too quickly, to what the other person said. Inadvertently, it created huge tension in the discussion and was off-putting to the person I was talking to. While I was well intended, my sloppy response, created a bit of a setback. Fortunately, through the patience of the person I was speaking with, we were able to get our conversation back on track.

We do this all the time, too often out of carelessness, sloppiness, or just poor listening skills. We respond to what is said, but not what is meant or intended. I suspect it’s human nature, but it creates artificial barriers in our ability to connect with other people, whether they are our peers, customers, or those in our community.

In the worst case, these sloppy listening habits, create a widening gap between people, they shut down communications, adversely impact our abilities to learn, grow, move forward. And too often, these happen in the worst possible times, when there is already misunderstanding, differing points of view, some disagreement.

We, particularly in sales or management, feel a compulsion to respond to everything a customer says, defending our position, seeking to convince or persuade the customer to change. We treat these as objections and “handle” them.

Rather than rushing to respond, we and the person we are speaking with are better served if we pause to think, “What is it that would cause the person to say what they said? Why would they have that point of view? What is it that I may have misunderstood?” Rather than reacting to what they said, perhaps we and they are better served if we took a moment to understand why they have responded in a certain way, responding to that, rather than what is said.

We constantly need to pay attention to our listening skills. Listening is about understanding what and why something is being said, not just hearing the words. Listening requires openness in our own point of view and a willingness to accept other points of view. Listening cannot be driven by an agenda, but by learning from and understanding what others are trying to communicate.