It is quite common in the corporate world to come across people who only listen to what they want to hear. That means, when such people are being conveyed something that they do not wish to hear, they will not be fully in tune with what the person speaking to them is trying to communicate. This kind of selective listening is known as biased listening and needless to say may cause the selective listeners to miss crucial parts of a discussion.
It is natural for such listening bias to often lead to distortion of communication. As Praveen Purohit, deputy CHRO, Vedanta, aptly puts across, “This is one listening trait that separates leaders from managers.” In a business meeting where the strategy of a new product launch is being devised, some managers may just listen or pay attention to what they want to hear. They may only want to hear about their specific role or work in the entire execution of the plan. As per Purohit, such an outlook can actually lead to big blunders. Imagine the consequences if all the managers focused only on what they had to do, but the execution strategy actually involved tasks requiring cross-functional team collaboration and delivery! If the managers present fail to pay attention to others parts that were also equally important, the team may end up missing their proposed deadline for the product launch!
“Bias listening often seeps into people who see success early in life”
Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance
Purohit says biased listening is very much common amongst the mid-level or lower- level managers or team leaders. “C-suite members may not have this issue, which is why they are leaders,” points out Purohit.
However, Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma, equates the phenomenon of biased listening with confirmation bias. The latter is a phenomenon where people tend to search for or interpret information in a manner that supports their existing beliefs.
“If people have poor listening skills, there will be no clarity or transparency amongst team members and the line of communication will get disturbed,” observes Singh.
He further warns that biased listening can also lead to the problem of confirmation bias amongst people. “In such a case, things can go beyond the issue of communication gap amongst people. The relationship dynamics can be affected in a team if the issue is not addressed on time,” warns Singh.
Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance, asserts that biased listening is commonly observed in authoritative cultures. “This behaviour often seeps into people who see success early in life,” Sharma adds.
“This is one listening trait that separates leaders from managers”
Praveen Purohit, deputy CHRO, Vedanta
Is biased listening duly tackled by companies?
Human resource leaders feel very few companies may specifically try to tackle the issue of biased listening in leadership-development courses. While such behaviour should be nipped in the bud, it is not often done so. “Companies often overlook listening bias in case of a star performer unless it leads to a major escalation or a showdown,” points out Sharma.
Listening bias is actually a personal habit. Therefore, companies may not feel the need to address the issue unless it leads to major disruption in the organisation.
“Biased listening can also lead to the problem of confirmation bias amongst people”
Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma
No wonder HR leaders believe that leaders need to work towards improving their listening skills. “Visionary leaders often put in efforts to hone their listening skills. Anyone who wants to tackle the issue of biased listening, will have to practise to get rid of this habitual trait,” believes Purohit.