Consider the role of self-sabotage. If you’re prone to negative thought patterns, you can undermine your efforts to understand what people tell you. Here are some common examples of cognitive traps to avoid:
All or nothing. You bring a narrow either-or construct to the conversation. Examples include, “This person either agrees with me or poses a threat.” or “Either this person understands what I’m saying or is resisting me.” In reality, there are shadings of gray. Your employee may not understand your point, but that doesn’t mean he resists you. He may just be confused and need more information.
Rush to judgment. Once you stamp someone negatively, the label tends to stick. If you think to yourself, “Maya lacks creativity,” you may disregard any suggestion she offers without even bothering to listen. A related trap is making generalizations. You may adopt the attitude, “People like you are so _____” and that becomes your excuse not to listen with an open mind.
The pain avoidance shutdown. A child learns pain avoidance by shutting her eyes at an unpleasant sight or pressing his ears together when trying not to listen. The message becomes, “If I don’t listen, I don’t have to deal with it.” Adults are rarely as obvious as kids. But they also seek pain avoidance by resorting to fake smiles, canned nods, glazed facial expressions and monosyllabic grunts.