Are You Really Listening?

"Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood" - Dr. Stephen Covey

Are you someone who finds themselves distracted while listening to others speak? Your eyes shoot a quick glance at your phone, your mind wanders off, or perhaps you're busy forming an opinion and your judgement prevents you from truly understanding what that person is saying.

According to Dr. Stephen Covey, learning to communicate effectively is the most important life skill. But for many of us, our ability to listen is clouded by an 'autobiographical' filter. When you listen 'autobiographically' what you hear is automatically filtered through and measured against your life experiences this leaves you more likely to respond in one of four ways:

Evaluating: you judge and with agree or disagree

Probing: you ask questions from your own frame of reference 

Advising: you give counsel, advice and solutions to problems 

Interpreting: you analyse others' motives and behaviours based on your own experiences 

You may wonder what's wrong with drawing on your own experiences to relate to the speaker? Well, nothing if that person has actually asked for your point of view or if you have a close trusting relationship with them. Think, how many times have you responded in one or more of the ways above, and the person speaking has not asked for your advice, or judgement.

Ask yourself, does this sound familiar? You're listening to someone speak while simultaneously considering your reply, the questions you will ask, and how you will share your point, "Oh, the same thing happened to me, I tell you what I did..." You may find yourself already 'knowing' what the other person means before he/she finishes talking. Or perhaps you are focused on the words being spoken and miss the more subtle unspoken meaning. Often, having an autobiographical response can get in the way of truly listening.

Some people will recognise that autobiographical responses impact much of their ability to listen. But effective listening is a skill that anyone can master. Even if you find it difficult, you can turn listening into one of your strengths with practice. You simply need the strategies that will get you there.