Have you ever not-so-secretly dreamt you had a super-power? The ability to fly, become invisible, or move huge objects: they all seemed so cool as a kid. I am more practical today, if only slightly. What I really want is perfect recall of my entire conversational life. Imagine being able to recall every word spoken by and to you, with 100% accuracy. Disputes over who said what with the spouse, the car mechanic, the boss… you win, every time!
This grown-up dream set me off on a weird journey. Almost three years ago, our development team at HarQen surprised me with a new product. The product, later named Symposia, would allow me both to capture all my conversations, and use my typed notes as metadata for the audio underneath. In essence, any conversation could be searched, reviewed, shared – just like an email.
So, I’ve had this superpower for over two years now. Thousands of my conversations have been annotated and archived. I can tell you for certain that it’s truly rocked when I needed to figure out after a call whether an important strategic partner was really engaged. (He was.) Or when I was out on a family emergency, and missed a series of super-important meetings.
But my real insight is this: Listening is hard and we all suck at it.
I know what you are thinking. (Did I mention that I’m omniscient too?) I’m a great listener, it is (insert name of another here) who just doesn’t listen.
Early on in my superpowerdom, I stumbled upon an embedded assumption that none of us seem to recognize and therefore challenge. I’ll call it “the best listener bias”. Because we cannot hear how others hear, we don’t have any appreciation how different listening can be. If we are both native speakers, we assume that the other will interpret our words EXACTLY as we will.
It’s an attractive assumption that language is straightforward and tone is universal. We anticipate that our communications will have a high level and frequency of shared understanding.
Actually, the exact opposite is true.
The ability to hear what is actually being said is damn near a miracle when it happens. And it happens FAR less than you would possibly imagine. Sometimes I will need to listen to a piece of a conversation multiple times before I really grasp what is being said. And even then, that AHA! is still an interpretation.
Having perfect recall has given me a deep appreciation for how easy it is to mishear things and misread intent. We tend to hear what we want to hear… and “want” is not a conscious driver here.
Sadly, you don’t have this perfect recall ability. You don’t have my superpower.
But if you did, you would be much more productive. By focusing on listening, and letting the machines remember on your behalf, you will end up in far fewer debates. And not just because you have the words recorded, but because you understand on a primal, fundamental level – you are not the best listener in the room.