Do not listen with the intent to reply but with the intent to understand

What is the single most important tool we require to listen well? The answer is simple: Stop thinking about what we’re going to say next and focus on what the other person is saying right at the very moment they say it. This is called “active listening.”

Active listening is reasonably easy to do; we listen to what is being said. We don’t interrupt, we don’t disagree, and we don’t judge! Our responses are non-verbal; we nod, we smile, we may even gently touch the speaker on the arm or shoulder in an empathetic, caring way. Sometimes we may make brief comments like “yes” or “ok” to accompany our non verbal language.

Active listening is not clamming up or shutting down, it is having nothing to say. If we are “shutting up” for example, we are often planning what we are going to say in response to the speaker. If we are planning our response we are not actively listening. When we find ourselves planning our response we must get rid of that response immediately; this is not the time for ego.

So how can we tell how well we were actively listening? One way is paraphrasing the gist of what we have just heard back to the speaker. To avoid sounding like a parrot we may begin with, “Let me see if I understood you correctly…” Or we may take one portion of what we had heard and inquire about that. Whenever we ask questions of any speaker, it shows that we have been paying attention.

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Have you ever been to a lecture, seminar or even a tea party and at the conclusion of the event the audience is invited to ask questions of the speaker, and no one does? How awful for the speaker that they have just delivered what they consider to be an exciting talk on a riveting topic and  everyone in the room has drifted off to their happy place! Whilst you and a few others squirm in your seats, feeling the heat of embarrassment on behalf of the speaker, a brave soul raises their hand, offers a question, and instantly becomes likeable. Moreover it is not just the speaker but the whole audience who likes them.

Asking for more information about what we have heard makes us likeable. To be an active listener we must be curious. Asking people to tell us more makes us more likable and in return the speaker may wish to help us.

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But what if the speaker really is boring and we really are not that interested in what they’re saying, and we are desperate to go to the restroom/the bar/the slaughterhouse anywhere that will get us away yet still be liked? This person may help us get where we need to be in our career so we can’t just walk out. We need to ask questions but what questions do we ask? This and other philosophies are explored in my next blog!

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

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