Thursday, January 27, 2005

Now Listen...

Now Listen...

I think a lot of conflict, misunderstanding and inefficiency in our daily interactions with people are caused by miscommunication. And why does miscommunication occur? Most of the time it is because we never learn how to listen to the other party properly.

What's so difficult about listening? We do listen all the time don't we? If not, how do we respond to anything?

Now, true listening or what is usually called "empathetic listening", goes a lot deeper than merely "paying attention". Empathetic listening is a skill that needs to learned, not unlike the ability to debate or to conduct presentations. Unfortunately it is often a neglected and under-appreciated skill, because we all assume that we know how to do it. But we don't.

What then is involved in true empathetic listening? Isn't focussing on what people are saying, understanding their points precisely considered good listening?

Yes, but there's more to it: The level of "understanding" involved in true listening requires you not only to listen intently but also to put youself in the shoes of the speaker, and be able to feel the emotional and intellectual motivation behind what is being expressed, as if you are saying those words yourself, without any judgement.

That is a difficult thing to do because our natural tendency when listening is to react and respond, rather than to dive beneathe the surface of words, and experience them at their pre-manifestation level. I've mentioned before that words are just signposts that point to the real thing; so the important thing is to be able to reach down into the source or impulse behind thoughts and ideas, rather than to read too much into the words themselves.

It is like asking you to become an actor or actress for the brief moment while you are listening, and to try and play the role of the person you are listening to. Only after you have successfully seen and felt everything from the speaker's point of view, have you earned the right to respond. This is also the underlying principle behind Covey's 5th Habit: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

There are two halves to good communication: listening and speaking. Unfortunately we place way too much emphasis on speaking well; if only we spend the same time and effort in developing our listening ability too, our daily communication--at the workplace, between husbands and wives, parents and children--will be much, much better.

Thanks for listening, your turn to speak.

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