Listening–REALLY Listening! (From Gigi Langer)
How often have you tried to share a problem 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.
NOTE: THIS HABIT OF INTERRUPTING TO TELL OUR OWN STORY OR OFFER ADVICE IS VERY HARD TO BREAK. Listening in this way does NOT mean that you can’t do this. But FIRST, you listen and paraphrase to help the person clarify the issue BEFORE asking them if they would like to hear your experience or a suggestion.
HOW TO REALLY LISTEN: 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/she 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/she 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 and I always feel that I’m not doing well enough ”
Then you summarize (without giving advice), “Hmmm, high expectations; that’s gotta be hard! Tell, me, where do those expectations come from? ”
This reply elicits her feelings and encourages more detail, allowing both of you to explore the problem, define it (e.g, is it her own perceptions OR really her boss’s behavior?) and find positive ways to address it.
TRY IT OUT
- Select a friend or coworker who is easy to talk to.
- 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 take a moment to prepare your response. Summarize the most important parts of what he said 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?”
Don’t worry if you find this difficult. Most people do. 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.
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.
As you listen fully, you’ll be astonished at how much you learn–and by the good will you create!