Listening– REALLY Listening!
How often have you had a conversation with someone who only wanted to talk about themselves? Frustrating, aye?
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 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
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. When he replies, 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.
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. That’s gotta be hard!”
This reply elicits her feelings and encourages more detail, allowing both of you to explore the problem and find positive ways to address it.
Try It Out
- Select a friend or coworker who is easy to talk to.
- Plan at least a 15-minute conversation without interruption.
- You may want to begin by explaining that you’re working on your listening skills and reassure him you have only good intentions—to fully understand what he says.
- Ask him to begin talking about something happening in his life.
- Listen intently while suspending your urge to break in with your own experiences or solutions.
- When he stops, pause to see if he’s finished and to prepare your response. Select the most important parts of what he 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?”
- If it seems acceptable to the other person, ask him how it felt to be listened to this way.
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.
Even though the habit of seeking to understand may feel artificial, you will soon find it more natural, especially when you sincerely intend to give pure, loving attention to another. As you listen fully, you’ll be astonished at how much you learn—and by the good will you create.
PS. I learned a lot of great communication skills from these folks: http://www.thinkingcollaborative.com/norms-collaboration-toolkit/
Gigi Langer, PhD is a sought-after speaker on professional and personal growth. She has 35 years of experience in psychology, therapy, and recovery. Gigi has co-authored five other books and is an award-winning writer.
Her latest book, 50 Ways to Worry Less Now: Reject Negative Thinking to Find Peace, Clarity, and Connection, will be released in March 2018.