B: “You think you’re overworked, have you seen what’s been on my plate lately? Anyways, you should just stop two of those projects because we can all see they aren’t going anywhere.”
A: “You just don’t get it…” This could have been between partners in a relationship, people at the workplace or even between friends. This situation went wrong because the party (A) who decided to share something personal failed to receive any recognition for their emotional feelings about the matter, and the party (B) who was listening interpreted the situation entirely from their own perspective, and thus responded in a way that wasn’t helpful. I contend that the party (B) who was “listening” wasn’t doing anything of the sort; instead he/she was hearing with the intent to fire back a reply.The key to unlock this problem is in the quoted paragraph below, first shared with me by my wise former coach Si Ekin (whom I’ll forever thank for it):
"When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked. When I ask you to listen and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel the way I do, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Listen. All I asked you to do was listen, not talk or do. Just hear me. I am not helpless. Perhaps discouraged for faltering, but not helpless. When you do something for me that I need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as fact that I feel what I feel no matter how irrational, then I can stop trying to convince you and get on with understanding what’s behind that irrational feeling and when that’s clear, the answer will be obvious and I won’t need advice." - Anonymous
I recommend re-reading the above paragraph several times; I try to read it afresh at least once a month. The concept of “listening with the intent to understand”, as opposed to “listening with the intent to speak back” is extremely powerful. It takes years to master (especially for thick-headed, argumentative cavemen like me). Resisting the temptation to give in to the first thing that pops into our head when hearing something we don’t immediately like is a critical skill. Listening to understand will improve your interactions with people over small and large matters (both are significant over time). In the case of large matters in particular, it’s worth keeping in mind that when someone has had the courage to approach you and take your ear on something in confidence, you should reward them with genuine understanding, not punish them with a counter-argument. Questions are then asked in the interest of learning and understanding, not in the interest of laying the groundwork for a predetermined response. This single interaction will leave both parties feeling satisfied, and move their relationship forward in a positive way. This by far beats the alternative scenario of nonchalance or irritation from the one party and a sense of indignation or resentment from the other. So, with this principle in mind we could imagine a different scenario to the one above:A: “I feel so tired and overworked. My projects are all going crazy right now, there’s so much on my plate and I don’t know how to handle it.”
B: “Oh, that must be tough… so how do you feel about all this right now? Is there anything I can do to help?”
A: “Don’t worry, I’ll figure this out, I just felt like talking to someone…” Voila! We have real communication. Applying this listening principle has really improved my ability to communicate, and that to me equals a better life. Good luck in trying it out, and if you have any other tips on how to better listen to people please let me know! P.S: For reasons I’m not quite sure of, women are usually superior listeners to men. Dr John Gray examines this general concept in the bestseller Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (which I recommended checking out).