Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we are able to hear each other at all. With different behavioral styles, generational differences and even multiple ways of expressing affection, are we hopelessly lost in believing that we can make a genuine connection with others?
Perhaps it can be summed up best in this quote by Stephen R. Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
I believe you can be a better listener. You just have to be deliberate in your approach.
Here are five tips to help you listen with the intent to understand:
- It’s not about you. At Pathfinder, we have long believed that the perspective of the client is the lens through which everything should be examined. When you are speaking with someone, it’s easy to engage in conversational narcissism – the tendency to turn to your experiences to continue the conversation – by using phrases such as “The same thing happened to me….” Instead of jumping in with your own experiences, just listen to the other person.
- Show empathy. Empathy is feeling what the other person feels. This is not the same as sympathy which is simply understanding what the other person feels. Once you take action to alleviate that feeling, you are exhibiting compassion. Not everyone wants compassion, but everyone wants connection. Just listen to show empathy.
- Be present (and pay attention). You’ve probably heard of “active listening” – providing various non-verbal cues to demonstrate that you are listening. Rather than focusing on providing the right cues, instead just be a good listener by removing as many distractions as you can. For example, put your cell phone away, turn off screens and clear your meeting space of clutter.
- Acknowledge your differences. It’s okay to have different preferences regarding communication styles. What’s not okay is ignoring those differences. Be upfront about your preferences and what you’ve observed from the other person.
- Just ask. When in doubt, just ask the other person. Here is a simple approach: “I’ve noticed that we’re not connecting as well as we could be. What can I do differently to understand you better?” By taking a break to engage in some metacommunication, you have an opportunity to reset and just listen.
One of my first coaching clients told me that one of his favorite phrases is “Big Ears, Small Mouth.” Sometimes all you need to do is just listen.