Listen for Understanding

Part two of a series

Communication is an art and too many people think it means they get to talk all the time…about themselves. Actually, this makes sense on some level. The single most important topic for any human beings is, themselves. Humans are hard-wired to want to be important and what they want above all, is to feel heard.
If every human wants to be heard and is always talking so others will hear them, so they can, in turn, feel important, how do we have actual conversations? How does anyone ever feel as though they have been heard? Some think it means they need to talk louder, longer and with more authority. Others get angry and use “control talk” in order to get their way and therefore, feel important. Anger is another manipulation to feel heard…except all it gets is fear from the person it is directed at.
Most conversation is small talk or chitchat but occasionally we need to have a more serious conversation about something that bothers us. I will refer to it as a conflict but that does not mean it has to be a huge blow up. I can be, but usually it is a small thing, that once addressed, will go away. It becomes big if you do not address it at the time the event occurs.
When you are in conflict and listen to someone else speak, think about whether you are interested in what they have to say. How often are you preparing your response while they speak? Do you hear words that push your buttons and bring up emotions that make it impossible for you to listen further or, you hear words and, because of whom the speaker is, or your history with them, you assume you know what they “really mean” and react based upon that assumption?
If people are always reacting to the words on the surface, how will they ever get to the deeper meaning and truth beneath the words?
In order to feel heard, one must first learn to listen.
Listening is a skill and requires practice.
In order to listen effectively, it is important to pay attention. For instance, if a person is angry, there is an underlying emotion showing up as anger. Usually it is fear or hurt. If you listen to someone who is angry, let them vent (remember the adrenaline rush I talked about last time in Conflict to Communication?). Keep telling yourself it is not about you and do NOT take it personally (this will help you keep from becoming defensive). Then empathize and imagine what it must be like in their shoes. Let them know you understand they are upset and based upon what they said; you can imagine they feel hurt and so on.
The key is this: Resolution cannot be achieved unless BOTH parties feel heard and each understands where the other one is coming from. Just because you understand another person’s point of view does NOT mean you have to agree with him or her. You just need to “get it”.
Once each party understands the other’s needs and concerns, then they can build an agreement that takes both parties’ interests in to account.
Listening for understanding requires that the listener put aside their own needs, concerns, hurt and defensiveness in order to truly hear what the other is saying.
If both parties are angry, remember it takes 20 minutes for the adrenaline to clear the system so a person can actually listen. Therefore, trying to have the discussion in the heat of the moment is futile and will only lead to further hurt, anger and upset. Take a time out, agree to come back to the discussion when you are both calm, agree on when you will have the discussion and then HAVE IT. Make sure you tie up the loose ends and take the time to hear each other. Otherwise, it will fester and become much bigger than it was to begin with.
Listening for understanding requires a true desire to resolve the matter and a willingness to let the other person be important in that moment. It means the listener puts off their need to be important until the other person has said what they need to say.
Next time, we will look at what it takes to be a good speaker and communicator.
Remember, talk less and listen more. Ask questions for understanding and put yourself in the other’s shoes.
Till next time.

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