What biases interfere with your listening?

One of the barriers to good listening is bias and prejudice. Stated positively, good listeners tend to have strong self-knowledge and awareness.

Market research indicates that women influence 93% of car-buying decisions and buy 65% of new vehicles themselves. Yet, one still hears horror stories about the poor treatment women get in car dealerships. For example, in an article for Fortune, writer Becky Quick noted that “Anne Mulcahy, the former chairman and CEO of Xerox. Three years ago Mulcahy decided it was time to treat herself and went shopping for a Porsche. After test-driving one beauty — a 911 Cabriolet — she announced to the salesman that she'd take the car. After a pregnant pause, he responded, "Don't you have to talk to someone about that first?" Her reply: "If you don't start working on the paperwork in the next 10 seconds, I'll drive 30 minutes to the next Porsche dealer and buy the car there."

Many women professionals I have worked with can tell stories about going to meetings with clients with several junior (male) colleagues, where the (male) client assumed they were the subordinate, not the young men with them. "Oh, you're their boss?"

One study I read showed that African-Americans get less good care from cardiologists than other patients. Is this because cardiologists are blatantly racist? More likely, some of them have unconscious biases that impair their ability to listen and diminish the seriousness with which they treat certain symptoms in those patients.

The fact is, we all have biases that interfere with the acuity of our listening. Psychologists say that the first three major biases are based on gender, race or ethnicity, and age. This makes sense because these very obvious.

How’s your self-awareness? Do you know what your hot-buttons are? What biases do you think you might have that potentially interfere with your ability to listen carefully to others?


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