If something occurs to you three times, it’s probably a good subject to write about. I was thinking the other day about an unusual personal characteristic that can both make someone truly remarkable, and create a whole host of problems. This popped back into my head whilst I was reading The Word For Today, and then was confirmed by Stephen Covey as I Twaitted (yes that is written correctly and makes me smirk every time) his 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.
And this unusual personal characteristic is – listening.
Sounds mundane? Don’t be fooled. I mean a specific kind of listening, which makes it more of a character trait than pure listening as a skill alone.
What I mean by listening is, as Stephen Covey puts it: listening to understand, not just to reply.
If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?
“Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way.” “I had that same thing happen to me.” “Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation.”
Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:
Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree. Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference. Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems. Interpreting: You analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.
Good Listening Skills I tend to listen to what people say, not just the way that they say it. I think that this is an incredibly polite thing to do, and it can help to overcome a lot of prejudices that we can be predisposed to based on someones appearance, speaking style, or subject matter. And when you start to listen to understand someone, to actually hear what they are saying it is an incredibly powerful way of listening. It means that you are engaged in an entirely different process of interaction with others. And, as I alluded to previously – it can be incredibly dangerous. Well, to be exact – other people can be dangerous when you really listen to exactly what they say and then respond to that.
Non-verbal Communication We are told that a huge percentage of what is communicated is non-verbal (a ‘fact’ that can be inappropriately applied without much reflection or explanation by many ‘trainers’). A lot of the time we take this ‘fact’ on in simple terms such as thinking someone is being nice to us because they are smiling when they are speaking; or we can disregard a great offer or invitation over the telephone because the caller is repetitively reading from a script.
Why We Don’t Like Being Listened To There is a flip-side to this. People can say things they either patently don’t mean or that plainly just doesn’t make sense. You can find evidence of this in the emails that we receive. Sometimes, when we read an email we can gather the drift of it but on closer inspection there are perhaps two or three sentences saying the same thing, and there is no real point being made.
Taking this into face to face conversations, and if we can stop ourselves in conversation with someone from assuming that we know what they are talking about and be thinking of what we are going to say in response, and actually LISTEN to what they are saying – we will find the same evidence that we can spot in written communications. And much more often, as there isn’t a delete button when we speak.
To my peril sometimes, I have often found this evidence. And I say peril, and earlier when I said that people can be dangerous, because when we are held to account for what we have said, or claimed, or promised – we don’t like it.
It is a sympton of the fact that we are not used to be listened to.
And when we aren’t used to be listened to, our ‘in the moment’ editing becomes less refined and less applied and we can get into the habit saying all sorts of things without ever being called out on it.
Be A Better Listener So, try it out. Start to listen to what is being said. Make notes as someone is speaking. On the positive side, those we are talking to may start to feel heard and understood (this is one of the reasons why some are better ‘people managers’ than others). But also be prepared to discover that some people are talking for the sake of it, and don’t really mean what they say.
Ok, so you know that already – but by honing this skill you will have the proof.