Listen with the intent to understand

Listen with the intent to understand

“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply “. Stephen R. Covey. Do you agree?

Listen with the intent to understand. I strongly agree with Stephen R. Covey because for one to listen with the intent to understand, you have to listen with empathy. Empathy is the ability to project oneself into the personality of another person in order to better understand that person’s emotions or feeling. Through empathic listening the listener let’s the speaker know its very possible to have different opinions, but still understand why he or she feels differently about a certain matter. The listener unmistakably conveys this message through words and non-verbal behaviors, including body language. In so doing, the listener encourages the speaker to fully express himself or herself free of interruption, criticism or being told what to do. “The major dilemma is that we tend to listen to reply, while all we should do is listen to understand and feel”.- Akilnathan Logeswaran
In 2006, Dr. Ralph Nichols who established the first study in the field of listening nearly 40 years ago at the university of Minnesota, quantified that we spend 40 percent of our day listening to others, but retain just 25 percent of what we hear. By 2011, sound expert Julian Treasure, in his TED talk “5 ways to listen better” found in his own research that we now spent as much as 60 percent of our day listening to others. Perhaps because “ it’s a louder and louder world”. A study at Princeton university, by Charles G. Gross, June 19, 2010 found that there is a lag between what you hear and what you understand. Depending upon the individual, it could be between a few seconds to up to a minute. During that lag time, we start to listen to ourselves and not to the other person. As a result, our comprehension plummets.

What causes this lag time? It might be something as simple as our physical and emotional state. But more likely, it’s our own thoughts and opinions, which is specifically known as confirmation bias, which is our tendency to pick out facts or aspects of a conversation that supports our pre-existing beliefs, values or perception. “You’re only listening for what you want to hear” – Grandma Eklund.
Tom D. Lewis and Gerald Graham cites research which says most individual speak at a rate of 175 to 200 words per minute, where people are very capable of listening and processing words at a rate of 600 to 1,000 per minute. Because the brain isn’t using it’s full capacity when listening, the brain drifts off to other questions. This phenomenon is called Miller’s law, after psychologist George Miller who said in 1980 that “In order to understand what another person is saying, you have to assume that their answer is true and try to imagine what it could be true of”. Miller found that many people apply this principle in reverse, or what’s known as competitive listening. They hear something and have a negative reaction because they believe what the other person said Is false, listening stops and communication breaks down. Years ago when I was studying acting my mother would always say, “Don’t just listen for the last word of your scene partner’s line to cue you to say your own line, be present and truly listen to the words they’re saying“.

The habit to seek first to understand involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. They are either speaking or preparing to speak, filtering everything through their own paradigm, reading their own autobiography into other peoples lives. You listen with reflective skills and not to listen with intent to reply, to control, to manipulate. When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with your heart, to understand, getting inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it. See the world the way they see the world, you understand how they feel. According to L.J Isham, “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals”. Of course there are other culprits, one is that people who listen to reply but not to understand simply don’t care about your thoughts and problems, they just want to impress you by their thoughts and knowledge.
I realize how important listening to understand is to all areas of our lives because the most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive”- Brene’ Brown.

Empathic listening involves more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said. “In listening lies great power, many are expert in speaking( whole everyone hears), adept in finalizing in bits and pieces, very prompt in commenting , and always ready to stamp judgement of “right” or “wrong”, very few are skilled in listening, first with the ears and then with the heart. Those who do hold true sustain great power “- Ufuoma Apoki.

Communication expert estimate that only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 percent is represented by our sound and 60 percent by our body language. In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but also, and more importantly, you listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel. “Listen to others very carefully. Shut your inner noise and focus on verbal and non-verbal cues”- Abhishek Ratna.
Taking the advice to listen with the intent to understand instead of reply Is very important in relationships with coworkers, partners, parents and anyone else in your life, because the biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.

Note: “The key to good listening isn’t technique, it’s desire. Until we truly want to understand the other person, we’ll never listen well”-Steve Goodier.

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