Why It’s Better to Know Nothing

Here’s a counter-intuitive discovery for you…

We recently spoke at an ASTD meeting. After participating in one of our listening exercises, Kevin remarked that he found it easier to listen to Samantha because she talked about a topic he knew well. The familiar subject made it possible for him to stay interested in the conversation.

That got us thinking. It may be easier…but was it better?
What really happens when we are “listening” in our day-to-day conversations? Do we do a better job of listening  when we know the topic really well?

Well, when you are very familiar with a topic, there is so much for you to share that it’s hard to quiet your thoughts. On a chemical level, we know humans are rewarded with endorphins when they talk about themselves. A busy brain filled with things you want to say could allow your brain to hijack the conversation. That means you’ll be less likely to listen and more apt to talk.

Imagine instead, that you know nothing about the topic being discussed. What happens then?

We’ll assume you honestly want to interact with the other person and you truly want them to feel listened to. Since you know nothing about the topic, you have no choice but to listen closely to what they are saying and then look for the next great question to ask. Because you are less distracted by your knowledge of the subject, you can truly focus on what the other person is saying and demonstrate authentic curiosity.

And that makes the other person feel good!

So the trick to being more curious is to quiet your brain and imagine that you know nothing about the subject at hand.

Last week we spoke at a Wharton Alumni Association meeting and brought the subject up for discussion after a role playing exercise.  Here’s what one participant had to say:

“Remarkably, in my role play with Judy, (who I have never met), I got to learn intimate things about her and her family. Wow! That was a far different result from any I’ve had at previous business networking events I’ve attended.”

Our unique approach to listening forces you to be more curious while you listen. The result? You are perceived to be more consensual, empathetic, and strategic.

Jon WhiteWhy It’s Better to Know Nothing

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