“Listening for breakthroughs” isn’t listening to breakthroughs already out there to listen for and find. Listening for breakthroughs is a “build it and they will come” kind of listening. Great coaches and leaders intuitively listen this way.

Breakthroughs emerge from the way we listen to each other: We can listen for what’s wrong and what won’t work because it will take too long and cost too much or we already tried that.

Or we can listen for brilliance, commitment, and ideas that might sound a little off because they push the boundaries of what’s familiar. We can listen longer to let an idea breathe and get some legs.

As high performers and contributors, our job is to create conversations and meetings where it’s okay to not have the answers. It takes listening longer, suspending judgment, and sometimes entertaining two opposing ideas at the same time.

Obstacles to Listening

Sometimes this means suspending a style that has contributed to your success. For example, most of us were rewarded for being good students and knowing the answers. As useful as being knowledgeable about something may be, it also makes us prone to race into action, cut people off, and assume people are eager to hear our ideas. We have to orient ourselves around a bigger payoff than looking good and being right about something “we already know” if we want to get the best from our team conversations.

Challenge yourself to ask where you could be the source of an impasse. What is it like for your colleague when you become rigid and opinionated? Are you willing to let go of how “right you are” and become curious about their ideas and perspectives?

If we’re not looking for anomalies, will we see them? Can we? Neuroscience suggests that as much as 90% of what we “see” is a memory, and only 10% is what is actually in front of us. It’s no wonder new ideas often meet pushback.

Seeing the World Afresh

To capitalize on the native intelligence of your team, practice saying, “Tell me more about that.” If we can let go of our belief in “THE” answer, there’s a chance that our questions will prompt deeper thinking and new combinations of ideas that haven’t been tried before. That’s where the gold is.

If we do this, it’s possible to see the world afresh, the way a child does or the way you do when you’ve had a close call — all of a sudden it’s as if you’ve put on a new pair of glasses.

What you see is new, even though nothing has changed.

Start by Believing It’s Possible

For example, we witness this time and again when our clients take on SAP integrations. For a large fashion corporation, listening created a workspace where people felt seen and heard and able to work through their challenges quickly. Instead of wasting time complaining about what was wrong, people pulled together and brought the world’s largest SAP project in on time and on budget.

Impossible? Not if you take on new ways of listening.

Look at your successful projects and note who was listening that got you success. Also, look at unsuccessful projects and add some listening to the conversation and see what happens.