talk at barbecue

In your relationships, are you really listening?

Do you try to understand the other person’s point before offering your own ideas?

Giving your complete attention to another person’s words offers him a treasure—a sincere gesture of care. Unfortunately, most of us respond to our loved ones either by telling stories about our own past or offering solutions.

Both types of responses prevent seeking to understand first, perhaps the most important of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Listening from the Heart

When in a conversation with someone, open your heart, empty your mind, and listen. If you notice yourself thinking about your own past, refocus your attention on what he is saying. If you’re tempted to suggest solutions, remind yourself that actively listening is your goal.

To show your intent to understand, briefly summarize what you think you heard. After that person’s reply, summarize again.

Listening in this way not only shows that you care—it also invites the person to clarify his own thoughts and feelings, often leading to helpful insights. Perhaps the initial “problem” is something else entirely.

For example, if a friend tells you she’s worried about losing her job because her boss constantly criticizes her, tune in, breathe, and resist the urge to tell your own tale about a bad boss. Then paraphrase her words: “It sounds like you get a lot of negative responses from him.” Your friend replies, “Well, it’s not really criticism. It’s just that he has such high expectations.” Then you summarize (without giving advice), “Hmmm, high expectations. Tell me more about those high expectations.”

Responding in these ways elicits her feelings and encourages more detail, allowing both of you to explore the problem before seeking positive ways to address it.

Try It Out!

 1.  Select a friend or coworker who’s easy to talk to, and plan a 15-minute conversation without interruption.

 2.  You may want to begin by explaining that you’re working on your listening skills and reassure the person you have only good intentions—to understand what they say.

 3.  Ask the person to begin talking about something happening in their life. Listen intently while resisting your urge to break in with your own experiences or solutions.

 4.  When the person stops, pause to see if they’ve finished talking and take a moment to prepare your response. Select the most important parts of what was said and summarize one of them in your own words—for example, “So, you said (fill in blank). Tell me more about that” or “You mentioned the word (fill in blank). What does that mean to you?” TIP: If you’re talking less, and they’re talking more, then you’re doing great!

 5.  If it seems acceptable to the other person, at the end of the conversation, ask how it felt to be listened to this way.

Make It A Habit

In your everyday interactions, make a conscious effort to listen carefully to others and paraphrase what you heard. Withhold your own thoughts and reactions until you fully comprehend the other person’s position or experience. You will be amazed by the good will you create (and what you learn about the other person!)

Gigi Langer

Gigi Langer holds a PhD in Psychological Studies in Education from Stanford University. She is an acclaimed teacher, author, and speaker who has helped thousands improve their lives at home and work. Gigi hasn’t had a drug or drink for over 30 years, although she does occasionally overindulge in Ghirardelli chocolate and historical novels. She lives happily in Michigan with her husband, Peter and her cat, Murphy.

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