“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” Stephen Covey
Hands up, who loves to give advice? Guillltttttttyyyyy! We all love to be the hero sometimes. OK, another quiz, hands up who loves to be right in an argument? Guilllllttttyyy as charged again. I mean come on, who doesn’t love to throw down an amazing point in an argument that silences your opponent? It’s human nature to fluff our feathers in conflict. It’s also in our nature to take on the role of savior and sage adviser. But did you know that being the agony aunt or the victor actually makes you a less successful communicator? I came across this quote a couple of years ago and it was one of those things that has stuck with me ever since. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.
It’s a simple concept isn’t it, listening to someone? We all do it throughout our every day life and many of us give ourselves the title of “great listener” without giving much thought to what is actually means to listen. When I talk about listening I don’t mean merely switching your lugholes on. I mean REALLY listening and not just say “yeah” while you’re painting your nails on the phone or sitting there waiting for a gap in the conversation to offer some groundbreaking advice that will also award you with the title of “wise one”. So few of us genuinely practice active listening yet we believe whole heatedly that we are “great listeners”. It seems to me that we all have our two cents that we want to add to a conversation and part of being human is a desire, no matter how small, to help and if we’re really honest a small part of us that wants to be right. How many times have you had an argument with someone and sat there poised to respond? Mouth slightly open waiting for your chance to butt in. How many times have you thought that you know just what to say to your friend who is in crisis? You’ve got the perfect anecdote of a time you experienced a similar problem and want to tell them how you overcame your challenge and how they can too. Now I’m not saying that it’s wrong to give advice. Sometimes our experiences that we share with others help them exponentially and sometimes people genuinely want to hear what to do. However, sometimes people just want to spill their guts and not hear what you would do in their position. Because it’s just that, it’s not you in their position, it’s them.
This concept of actually listening opened my eyes (or should I say ears) to a new way of understanding people and managing conflict. When we’re in a heated debate or argument we naturally think one, two or three steps ahead, eager to get our point across. We aren’t actually listening to the person offering an alternative point of view and therefore our arguments never go anywhere apart from shouting territory as we’re only listening to our own internal monologue. I often tell my students that they need to turn off their own minds and fully listen to the person they are having trouble with. It is only when we stop and truly, honestly listen that we gain a new perspective.
Sympathy V.S Empathy
Many people think that two two words mean the same thing when in actual fact they’re very different. To sympathize with someone means to feel sorry for their situation and feel sad for their sorrow. This is a very superficial response to someone’s problems. Of course you will feel bad when your friend is in a bad place but pitying them doesn’t equal understanding them. Instead of sympathizing we want to aim to EMPATHIZE. When we empathize with someone we truly listen to their perspective and understand their struggle from their point of view. We put ourselves in their shoes.
How can you become a great listener?
Give the speaker your full attention
This means putting your phone down or sitting in a quiet place if you’re talking on the phone. If you’re face to face, turn your body towards the speaker and look them in the eye. Show that you’re giving them your full attention.
Clear your mind of your own thoughts
Yes, I know you have a to do list that is huge and your own problems but try and put that to one side and just listen to the speaker. Give them space in your mind and let their words sink in. Don’t think what you would do in the situation or how you would react. Remember this isn’t you, it’s them.
This is simple etiquette when you’re having a conversation but I still cannot believe how many people jump in before you’re done talking with their own quip. This is classic listening to respond rather than listening to understand. We’re all guilty of this type of listening, especially in an argument. You need to take pause and think about what the person said and how to respond. See my 5 second rule to stop the interrupting habit.
Repeat what they said
You know when you meet someone and it’s recommended that you repeat their name so you remember it? Well this falls along the same line as that (full disclosure I am awful at names so any tips please leave them below). If you repeat what the other person has said to you then you can fully take it on board and internalize it as if it was your own thought. It also lets the other person know that you’ve listened to what they’ve said as you are able to repeat it back.
Count to 5 before you respond
This is something I picked up to help me not snap back at people when things get heated. It is also a power play if you’re trying to get more information out of a person as people like to fill silences (but this is not what we’re aiming for here). I sit and count to 5 in my head. This gives the other person’s words time to wash over me and helps stop an automated response. You’ll be amazed at how you see things more clearly when you give yourself time to digest the other person’s thoughts.
Just listen and don’t give advice
Unless you are asked directly for help, just listen to the other person and tell them that you understand how they feel. Offer support but not advice. There is nothing worse than unsolicited advice (am I right mums?) but support is always welcomed.
These tips for listening can be applied in many contexts from debates, to lending an ear to a friend to conflict. So next time that you’re in a position to listen to someone, try truly and actively listening. Put your own ego aside and actually take on board what they’re saying and I guarantee you’ll be amazed by the results. The world would be a better place if we listened more and talked less. Wow, all this yoga I’ve been doing is really rubbing off on me. I’ll be scrubbing floors at an Ashram and taking a vow of silence before you know it.
So, are you an active listener?