Listening to Understand

Listening to Understand

Listening is a skill far more complicated than hearing. In order to effectively communicate with someone you need to be disciplined in the art of listening to understand, rather than listening to respond, defend or blame.

It is quite easy to spot a defensive listener. Defensive listeners usually start responding before you have finished speaking. When we interrupt we often miss the central point of what the other person is saying. This can derail the conversation from its intended destination. So what is happening that leads us to interrupt? There can be a few factors responsible for this.

Emotional Reacting

One of these factors involves emotionally reacting to a word or phrase the speaker is using to describe something. This word or phrase may be linked to a significant area of your life. We all have personal things that we are sensitive to as a result of past experiences. If we are not aware of these sensitivities, then we are in danger of allowing them to frequently influence our listening. This in turn can influence our communication.

When you are listening to understand you embody empathy and your body language is aligned with what you are saying. You don’t necessarily have to agree with someone in order to understand. Check your understanding of what they are saying by making clarifying statements, such as: “I think you are saying that you feel x because of y and z …”.

Bias and Perception

Another factor that influences listening skills is bias or perception filters. When we have a strong perception of a person we tend to listen for things that prove our perception rather than openly listening without judgement. Again in order to listen non-defensively we need to be aware of these filters so that they do not hijack the conversation.

To practice listening to understand you need to have a good grasp of emotional intelligence. Understanding emotions helps you to listen and respond in ways that are informed by emotion rather than driven by emotion.

Ultimately listening to understand is not about having a response. Communication is not about right and wrong. There are no universal truths. There is the way I see the world and the way others see the world, and no two are the same. When we listen to understand we open the possibility to see the world from a different perspective.

Good Listening Skills

  • A good grasp of emotional intelligence
  • Give the speaker a chance to finish what they are saying
  • Check your bias and perception
  • Avoid right/wrong thinking