Listening To Understand

From the Harmony Habit Tip Archives (May 2011):

“Most of us listen to reply, not to understand.”
~Steven Covey

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Reflection:

listeningI remember the first time I read that quote because it really struck me how very true it is. And it appears I am not alone in my thinking. Most everyone I share Steven Covey’s words with agrees. And when I mention the quote during a presentation, I’m always asked to repeat it several times, so people can write it down. They not only get it, they see themselves in it!

I was at a meeting just last week when I shared these words with a colleague of mine. “That’s such a great quote!” he said. “Because it’s really true… and if you don’t know that it’s true, then you really have a problem! What it implies is that you are more interested in what you have to say, than what the other person is saying.” He also felt that it was a deeply ingrained habit and not an easy one to break. I agreed.

Not listening fully is a learned behavior. Most likely it was modeled by our parents, siblings, teachers, etc. (think about it… how fully heard did you feel growing up?) and this behavior won’t change until we recognize that it’s a pattern. Admit it! When someone else is talking, how often are you up in your head preparing what you’ll say next? Or, do you ever cut the other person off to get your point across quickly? This is a monologue, not 2-way communication!

Not listening serves neither person because no one gets to be understood! If we want to come up with solutions to conflict that are mutually satisfying, then we need to offer the gift of understanding. We need to fully listen and to hear each other out. How else would we ever know that we arrived at a place where both our needs would be met, if we never understood what each of us really wanted in the first place?

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This week’s practice:

Pay attention to your listening style. Out of 100% of what the other person is saying, what percentage of it do you really grasp?

Notice, especially when you are upset, how well you listen to what’s being said. Do you quietly prepare a retort, or a sharp witty reply, while the other person is speaking? If so, can you consciously stop and make it a point to listen and connect more fully with what matters to the other person?  Simply being mindful of your behavior will help you modify it. With practice, you can break that habit.

There’s also a bit of enlightened self interest in learning to listen well. If we can fully hear what the other person is saying, they are more likely to calm down and identify what’s most important to them. Then they’re also more able to do the same for us; which makes it a lot easier for both parties to get their needs met. We simply can’t do that if neither is listening!

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