I had occasion today to refer someone to this PDF. I got to rereading it, and it brought back some good points that I tend to forget. Take this little section:
This habit also can require a paradigm shift. The problem is that we are trained to read, to
write, and even to speak, but most of us have had no formal training in listening—our
listening skills are self-taught. And people whose skills are self-taught—whether
swimming, golf, decision-making, or listening—almost always fall victim to certain
Most people listen “autobiographically,” as Covey terms it: they filter what they hear
through their own life and experience, and fit what they hear into their preconceptions,
worldview, and judgments. They listen selectively, hearing those statements with which
they agree, and not really taking in statements that don’t match their views. The result is
that their responses come out of their own view, and the other person feels that they have
not been understood—because they haven’t. It’s as if you visit an optometrist, and before
your eyes are examined, the optometrist hands you his or her glasses and says, “Here, this
is what you need. I’ve used these for years, and they work perfectly. I have an extra pair,
so you can keep these.” Most of us would prefer that the prescription come AFTER
diagnosis—that the solution is delivered AFTER the problem is understood.
Empathic listening, in which you open yourself to get inside the other person’s frame of
reference—to look out through that frame of reference to see the world the way they see
the world and understand their paradigm and how they feel—delivers much more than
better information. It provides psychological “air” to the other person—it lets them feel
that they have been understood, affirmed, validated, and appreciated. Until that need is
satisfied, they will find it difficult to work on a solution or to try to understand your view.
It’s a paradox, in a way: to influence someone, you must become open to being
influenced by them. If your “listening” is just a matter of waiting for them to stop
speaking, you yourself are not going to be heard.
If we are listening autobiographically (and thus ineffectively), we respond in one of four
- We evaluate—we agree or disagree.
- We probe—we ask questions from our own frame of experience.
- We advise—we give counsel based on our own experience.
- We interpret—we try to figure people out, explain their motives and behavior based on our own motives and behavior.
Any of these will shut down true communication from the other person and thus deprive
you of the chance to truly understand what they are communicating.
I certainly fail at empathic listening all too often, and years ago it was the only way in which I knew to listen. And the odd thing was, the reason I listened autobiographically was that I really wanted to understand what the person was saying. But by injecting me (my values, views, comments, and interpretations) into the activity, I did exactly those things that prevent understanding.
This is a big one, particular right now, with elections coming up, which work best if everyone has had a chance to be heard and understood. Then tradeoffs might be more painful, since we understand the harm some actions will cause, but they will be more in accordance with the will of the people, which, after all, is what we’re supposed to be governed by.