Everyone wants to be understood.
“I don’t understand my (spouse, child, friend, colleague, boss)” you say. “We talk but I still don’t understand him/her.”
Have you tried listening to them? Not just listening but listening with an intent to understand.
If everyone seeks to first be understood, communication can never be effective. Seek first to understand then to be understood is a habit of highly effective people. And to understand someone, you have to listen to them.
According to Steven R. Covey, we’re always listening in four levels.
- Ignoring. Where you’re not listening at all.
- Pretending. Where you keep saying “yeah” “uh-huh” but not really paying attention.
- Selective. Hearing only some parts and you keep zoning out.
- Attentive. You hear everything being said and your attention is fully there.
The highest, most effective level of listening is;
- Empathetic listening. This is listening, not to give your opinion, but listening to get the other person’s perspective on the matter at hand, how they feel about it.
Often, people listen and equate another person’s story to their life history or present situation. In other words, reading their autobiography on someone else’s story.
This happens especially when advising someone but basing your advice on how the same story happened to YOU, how YOU handled it, how YOU felt about it. Yet this could be totally different from what the person is going through or trying to say.
A good example of when this autobiographical listening happens is when speaking to someone younger than you and you listen and imagine what YOU would have done in that case. This is totally the opposite of empathic listening.
So, how can you be an empathic listener?
Stages of Listening Empathically
- Mimic/echo content of the conversation. Don’t advise, evaluate, probe, or interpret the conversation. For example, a conversation starts with your friend saying that life is so hard for him/her currently.
- Rephrase the content. Now put what is said into your own words and find out if that’s what the person meant. You’re now really thinking about what they said. E.g. you could ask your friend, “You think life is getting harder with adulthood?” to continue with the conversation.
- Reflect on their feeling. From what they say, confirm their real feelings about the situation, e.g. “so you’re feeling really frustrated, sad, confused?” Now you’re not only focusing on words said, but also on their feelings. This is empathy.
- Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling. E.g. Adulting is really frustrating you?
From this conversation, you haven’t (autobiographically) said “you haven’t experienced it as much as I have” or “others are having it harder than you” or “you should be more grateful for what you have now” or “you’re still so young to be complaining” which are common responses one would give.
Instead, you have empathized with your friend and they end up feeling heard and understood.
Sometimes, people communicate something different from what exactly they are feeling. By listening empathically, you break this barrier and also help them understand their situation better.
Have you been a good listener lately? Do you see instances where you read your autobiography in conversations?
Improve your communication with people by being a better listener today.
The key to good judgement is understanding (the key to understanding is listening)
There are no disinteresting people, just disinterested listeners.
Inspiration from habit 5, seek first to understand then to be understood (Steven R. Covey)