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Filters can stop us hearing

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

Filters are powerful and we all have them.

I wrote in earlier blog posts about some of the ways we tend to behave that make us less effective listeners. Something I mentioned was a filtering ‘system’.


Filters can cause us hear and interpret things quite differently to what is actually being said or written. They are the result of our existence up to that point in time. It’s part of our human sense-making system so that we have a point of reference (our own!) by which to judge and discriminate. Frequently helpful, but not always.


“We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, emotional and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. After forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify and rationalise them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments and rational explanations. Beliefs come first; explanations for beliefs follow.*


Once we believe something, we cling on to it like limpets to a rock and even go so far as to reinforce our view using various powerful cognitive biases that can potentially distort our thinking and understanding.


Some of our hard-wired biases include:

· anchoring bias which involves a heavy reliance on one reference anchor or piece of information when making decisions.

· Authority bias is another where we value the opinions of an authority, especially in the evaluation of something we know little about.

· Belief bias is also a player in this space, which involves evaluating the strength of an argument based on the believability of its conclusion.

· Almost lastly, but not leastly is our trusty old ally, confirmation bias where we seek and find confirming evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence.

· Finally there is the in-group bias, by which we place more value on the beliefs of those whom we perceive to be fellow members of our group and less on the beliefs of those from different groups.


Just when you start to realise listening without making assumptions is really challenging through inadvertently using our filters, there’s one more potential impediment to open and reflective hearing which has been termed a ‘meta-bias’ - it’s the bias blind spot. This is the tendency to recognise the power of cognitive biases in other people but to be blind to their influence on our own beliefs.


Don’t give up in despair!! There is hope on the horizon for dealing with our varied bias-wired brains. In terms of our own open-mindedness, Steve Ayan* believes that a flexible self-image is important to help us better cope with changes to our worldview and life in general. Self-awareness is equally powerful.


“Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends on the beliefs we hold at any given time.”*

* * Excerpts From: Scientific American. “RETURN TO REASON: The Science of Thought.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=91EFDEA741A66EE363C55A90403CD8D3

I'm listening alright, just not understanding you!

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