Why Bad Listening is One of the Worst Decisions Managers Can Make

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Powerful leaders are often mythologized as stubborn and bull-headed, and that ignoring the advice of others is a virtue.

But researchers at NYU’s Stern School of Business conducted a study on the influence of power in decision-making and they confirmed what many employees already know: people with more power listen less, take less advice, and are ultimately less accurate in final judgments.

The researchers gathered survey data from hundreds of working professionals, and they conducted controlled laboratory experiments where they primed participants to experience varying levels of power and then presented them with advice from others.

They found that greater power meant a reduced tendency to take advice from others. The reason was that the powerful had an elevated confidence in their snap judgments, and that meant that they didn’t listen to valuable advice of others that could’ve changed their mind.

That’s why to successful tech entrepreneurs Andy Grove and Jeff Bezos, bad listening is one of the worst decisions you can make as a manager—because it makes the quality of all of your manager decision making worse.

Information Gathering is the Basis of All Managerial Work

Andy Grove manager decision making

In his management classic High Output Management, former Intel CEO Andy Grove four managerial activities dominate a manager’s time—information gathering, conveying information, decision-making, and being a role model—but one single activity is the most fundamental of them all.

To Grove, “information-gathering is the basis of all other managerial work” because it serves as the “base of information” you have when you’re engaging in the other three managerial activities.

That’s why Grove insisted that his managers participate in “Mr. Clean” inspections, where they would go to a part of the company they normally wouldn’t visit to stop and quickly chat with the people there.  He advocated that managers not cloister themselves away from employees, but rather be out in the open so that they’re available for quick and information information exchange.

Ultimately, in Grove’s words, “your decision-making depends finally on how well you comprehend the facts and issues facing your business” and that means spending a lot, if not most of your time, listening to the people in your company.

Be Ready to Change Your Mind If You Want to Be Right

In contrast to the powerful folks that don’t listen, think they’re right, and make bad decisions, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, noticed the opposite in people who often make the right decisions.  They change their mind—a lot.

Jeff Bezos manager decision making

Rather than assuming their snap judgments are correct and blocking themselves off to contradictory information and advice, “they’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.”

They listen to others and synthesize that new information into their world view. They’re humble and don’t assume that just because they’re powerful, they’re right.

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The NYU Stern study identifies “confidence in one’s judgment” as the reason behind the inverse relationship between power and listening skill. Powerful people are confident; their reaction is to stop listening. Keys to listening well, then, are openness and vulnerability, pointing the compass needle away from yourself and showing confidence in others.

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