Are you really listening?
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Stephen R. Covey
That quote has so much meaning when it comes to the human condition. So many of us are embroiled in a war waged on being heard — of being appreciated and privately and publicly lauded by our peers.
Very few folks actually give a crap what others are saying in a conversation; the real goal is how to best respond and sound as profound as possible. This is not how successful people tend to operate, either.
The issue with this kind of thinking is that a good listener is hard to find and even the dumbest, the most narcissistic of all of us know when we’re standing or seated across from a truly good listener.
Which category do you fall into?
Would it shock you to learn that only ten percent of all human beings in existence today are believed to be truly effective listeners?
In other words, people who actually listen with empathy — who have a desire to understand the person or persons they’re listening to?
The ninety percent of bad listeners out there are indeed a competitive bunch, but they’re competitive for all the wrong reasons. They want to win the battle, but unfortunately, the methods they’re using will undoubtedly lose them the war.
The battle to listen versus the desire to cleverly respond has very likely been going on since the birth of language. It’s a problem that’s only getting worse in the digital era, as we become further and further detached from each other.
Here’s some tips to turn this notoriously bad behavior around, to set yourself up for more successful relationships. Make the switch and you instantly become part of the ten percent who can, versus the ninety percent who statistically cannot!
1. Practice on a friend or relative.
There’s no doubt this might be easier said than done, but practice makes perfect. Find someone you can engage in a conversation with. One person will be the listener for the next couple of (unbearable) minutes, the other the speaker. Brace yourself, but make a promise to one another that when the speaker is talking, the only thing the other will be doing is listening.
The listener is not allowed to respond, nor are they able to think of what they plan to say next. All they’re permitted to do is give non-verbal cues, such as nodding, head tilting, smiling, etc., to indicate they’re listening. When time is up, the listener can reply to what they just heard, or talk about something entirely different — it doesn’t matter — and the former speaker will now take on the role of listener.
2. Break negative listening patterns as soon as they enter your mind.
This is simple in theory and tough in application for the vast majority of us. It’ll be the most excruciating aspect of personal development you’ve ever experienced, if you’re the type Covey talked about in his book “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.”
Here are a few common negative listening cues that pop into a default responder’s brain:
- Judgement: Thoughts like “What are they thinking?” or “This sounds stupid” and many others, are just a few thoughts that brew in the minds of someone who isn’t listening with the objective of understanding.
- Advice: You’re the most sage and learned person you know and your brain can’t help but think “I’ve got to set them straight this minute” or “They could really benefit from XYZ advice” to help them with the issue they’re talking about.
- “I know”: The worst of all listening offences is the “I know” syndrome that affects almost every human being in existence — so arrogant, too, to think you can put yourself inside the head of another complex and unique human being with over one billion brain cells they can use to form thoughts and feelings with.
3. Get comfortable with pauses.
Listen up, there are a whole bunch of things I could suggest to help make you a better listener. Like so many skills, the “best” tips are highly individual dependent on your personality type and the social circles you hang out in. However, so few of us can tolerate a break in the conversation without feeling the urge to respond.
Bad listeners only care about curing the unbearable silence, not the reason it happens in the first place. Recognise that you’re very unlikely to judged by the talker, if they feel like you’re carefully pondering what they’ve just said. That’s why the talker usually takes a brief moment of silence.
They need recognition that you’re listening. That person is looking at your body language, searching for signs of confusion, watching your eyebrows, eye movement and scanning for other non-verbal cues that you’re considering their words. What they don’t want is some dim-witted solution to the issue they’re facing, or ill-conceived response to the story they’re telling.
Follow just one of these tips and you’ll instantly transform into a good listener. Heed two and you’re approaching a level of greatness that’s unheralded. Adopt all three of the better listening tips above and you’ve just entered the ten-percenter club of listening!
Main Image Credit: Miguel Flores/Flickr