Most people do not listen

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”—Stephen R. Covey

Think back to your recent conversations. How many times have you listened to your friend, co-worker or family member talk, all the while formulating your response?

As your good friend speaks about her latest frustration with her husband, are you readying an empathetic reply, all set to agree what a lousy thing her husband did? As your teen expresses anger over not being allowed to do something ‘everybody else’ does, are you rehearsing your defensive ‘we’ve got our own rules’ response? As your co-worker worries about an upcoming project deadline, have you already pro-actively thought of five ways she could improve her chances of meeting that deadline?

You may have the best of intentions when doing this, but you are cheating the person you are listening to at the same time. When people are speaking with you, the most validating thing you can do is to give them your full attention. Hold eye contact with them. Listen quietly without interrupting until they are finished. Don’t be afraid of not having an instant answer—did they even ask you a question? A few moments of silent reflection on their words is ok! It shows that you heard what they were saying, value their thoughts, and are open to what they need and want from you, if anything, beyond listening.

One way we can show that we were truly with them when they were speaking is to reflect back to them what they said. Restate what they said, using some of their own words: “So you felt that Dan was not following through on agreements you made to share the work of keeping the house clean.” Name the emotion they had as they spoke: “It sounds like you are feeling untrusted, and that makes you angry.” “Your deadline is next week, and you’re worried you won’t be ready.” Ask them if you understood them correctly.

Then gage whether or not they want your judgment, ideas or sympathy. If they do, this is a great time for that part of the conversation—when someone feels really heard by you, they are the most open for constructive dialogue.



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