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Listen to Understand vs. Listen to Reply

By Joseph Schany - | Sep 29, 2020

Years ago, while completing management training within “Corporate America”, I wrote a report on the most applicable and valuable lesson from The 7 habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Try to suppress that yawn and hear me out!). Covey notes, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” At the time, that simple statement blew my mind and I began to view every conversation in a wholly different light. I realized that most of my own social discourse, as well as the conversations I overheard, functioned on this basis premise: We all just wait for our turn to speak.

Fast forward to now, it has become incredibly apparent to me that the trend has gotten much worse. Blame it on our busy lives, our never-ending connection to the pings and dings of our phones, and/or the ever-increasing attention deficit issues caused by the countless distractions all around us. Regardless, somewhere along the way, many of us forgot how to communicate.

The good news is it’s not too late to course-correct. In fact, recognizing there’s a problem is half the battle. From there, it becomes a matter of practicing what the experts call “active listening” instead of simply thinking about what you want to say while others are speaking. Some key components of the “active listening” approach to communication include:

• Pay attention. When someone is talking to you, look at them. Notice their eye contact and body language. Listen for their tone of voice and what they are actually saying.

• Listen with your body. Turn toward the person who is talking, lean in, and make them feel heard because you really are listening. Make eye contact, smile, nod, and make leading noises (“Uh-huh”, “Really?”, “Go on”, etc.) when appropriate.

• Don’t interrupt. This is important! The best way to make someone feel like they are not being heard is to interrupt or talk on top of them. Listen fully and wait until they are done to ask questions or add your thoughts.

• Repeat what they said. Don’t just say what you were planning to say. Show that you have heard what they said by repeating back to them a summary of what you heard when appropriate before adding your own opinions.

• Respond. Be honest and respectful in your responses, and remember to talk (and listen) in the ways that you would want to be talked to or heard.

Remember that practice makes perfect, but a little effort will go a long way towards effective communication.