There is a common tendency to try and fix things with ‘good’ advice.
Things are not your problem and yet you immediately associate the problem with your own experiences and before you know you blurt out an advice. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
But how helpful is such an advice? And do you ever take it to heart?
Our education has taught us how to read, write and speak. But who was ever educated in listening? I was, when I studied psychology, but that might be considered a bit late. The people around me had already suffered twenty years of me not listening to them properly!
Psychology only taught me techniques; it did not teach me how I could really hear the other person.
Covey explicitly puts a focus on listening by heart, which goes further than techniques can take you.
Another person – your lover, employee or someone you just met – will notice that you are sincerely interested if he or she experiences that you are listening honestly.
Only by listening sincerely will you notice the true feelings and ideas of your friend or colleague. And only this will help you give him or her the best possible advice.
Do you ever wonder if you are listening sincerely? When you often give one of the following replies when talking to someone, you are probably doing anything but listening:
How can you understand the other with a few words and reply with an entire story? Simple: you can’t!
Most times, you try to understand someone else by relating his story to your own experiences. If this is all you do, you are seeing the other as if he is you. Guess what, he is not! Relating to your own experiences is not a good start for true understanding.
Covey distinguishes between five types of listening (or pretending to listen).
Empathic listening is not about agreeing with the other (showing sympathy). It is about understanding what message the other is trying to convey. It is the only form of true listening.
Products or needs?
A good salesman will know the needs of his customers. He will look at the products he has and if those products will serve the needs of his customers. He wants to know if he can provide a true solution to his customers needs.
We all know those salesmen that are just trying to sell their products regardless of what we need, don’t we? Ho do they make you feel? Right…
Understanding is the key in many situations. If you do not have a solution, it might give greater satisfaction to admit this than to come with a solution that actually is not a solution at all.
What you should NOT do:
Four types of reacting from an egocentric perspective, that are unproductive:
Four keys to EMPHATIC listening
Empathic listening is the way to go, and can be divided into different levels:
The impact of undivided attention
Giving someone the feeling that you are truly listening has great impact on your relationship (see Covey’s metaphore of emotional banking)
Once the other has the feeling that you are really listening he will ask you what your opinion is. He will want to know if you had similar experiences and how you acted. But he will want to know these things only after you listened first!
Learning how to listen is a great advantage when you are working from a win/win frame.
The reason for this is that the perception others have of you changes when you listen emphatically. Your friends, colleagues, and family will start experiencing you as an open person, and hence will start opening up themselves to you.
I assume that you want to know how to listen emphatically? Practice is the key. Every next conversation you have, try to listen empathically. Do not expect the entire world to open up directly. Do not push it.
My addition to Covey – how to make understanding a habit
I advise to check how you react to people during the next ten times you encounter someone.
Are you already listening and do you need some improvement? Or are you responding too quickly and do you have to start from the beginning?
After you find out how you are currently doing, it is time to decide where you will focus on.
You can take one of the four keys of empathetic listening, and every time someone uses the word ‘problem’ or ‘issue’ or ‘can you help me’, this is your cue to implement your new way of listening and reacting.
After you mastered your first level, try the next level.
Stephen R. Covey. “The 7 HABITS of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic.” FreePress, New York, 2004.
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