I am guilty of not being a great listener. I am constantly trying to fight the inner me that is bursting at the seams to say what I have to say. I am caught up in my thoughts before the other person is even done talking. I am also willing to bet that I am not the only one like this. Now, you may be thinking, “Not me…I am a great listener.” I challenge you to pay closer attention the next time you are listening. Do you find yourself anxious to talk even while the other person hasn’t completed their thought? I bet you will find it happens more often than you realize.
The Report Card Example
Imagine your kid comes home and has a bad grade on his/her report card. Now, he/she may have five good grades, but you know we ask about the bad one. When he or she begins to explain the problem, we tend to draw a conclusion before they are even done talking. We are thinking of all the “right” parental things to say. We are thinking what our parents would have said to us. We may be thinking, “What am I suppose to say here that is both helpful and encouraging?” No matter what you are thinking, your kid is still talking. You are checked out. You haven’t heard a word or understood a thing since the first one or two sentences. How can we truly understand them if we are too busy worrying about what we are going to say?
Our Bank is Building Up
When someone is speaking, we tend to listen to just a few words or sentences until we hear something we can latch on to. Once we find something, we start to think about what we are going to say even though they are still talking. Our brain kinda checks out a bit. Sometimes we are so excited about our clever, witty, or funny response we forget to pay attention to them. We are too busy trying to remember what we want to say and how we think they are going to react. Instead of listening to what they are saying, we are distracted by the bank of responses we have been building up. We can’t wait until they are done talking so we can interject our two cents. All we need is their quick pause to catch a breath and we jump right in.
We are so anxious to express our thoughts, on our friend’s half completed, half listened to thought, that we tend to only hear a part of what they are saying. Most people also believe they are not truly engaged in a conversation unless they are saying as much as the other person. This simply is not true.
Flawed In Many Ways
In the past, whenever someone came to me with a problem or a concern, I would listen, but not really. I would listen until they said just enough that I feel like I know the problem and can solve it. I have the answer to “fix the problem.” As they speak, I would try to determine the problem before they even finished talking. Anxiously, I would try to remember my response, even though they still aren’t done explaining their concern. This approach is flawed in so many ways:
- I tend not to understand the real problem, which most of the time is that they just want to vent. They don’t necessarily want an answer to every thing they say.
- I tend to interrupt them, stopping their explanation, to show how fast I could solve the problem. Most people really don’t like this.
- I am so busy trying to remember my awesome answers and witty responses that I miss half of what they are saying.
Listen Intently & Don’t Interrupt
To truly understand someone, we have to listen intently. Don’t interrupt them. Let them finish what they are saying and get the entire picture. If you are too busy, dissecting everything they are saying, then you are only getting part of the picture. This is kinda like standing so close to a picture that we only see small pieces of it. We need to step back, be patient, and see the whole picture and its meaning. Imagine going to an iMax theater and sitting in the front row. You are too busy going back and forth to really see what is going on. This is like going back and forth in your mind trying to find an answer or response for everything being said. It would be a lot better to just listen, take in all the details, without trying to build a queue of responses. Then, only after they are done talking, think about what they said and respond.
By listening to someone’s full thought, you will be in a better position to give them the feedback that they need. Don’t get caught up with the responses you feel you need to say. Sometimes people want responses to what they are saying. Other times, they just want to vent to someone, hoping for a friendly ear. By becoming a better listener, you will be in a position to give the person what they need. Don’t make it about you, your ego, and your own need to express yourself. Become a better listener.
I try to pause three to five seconds, after someone is finished talking. I like to make sure they have finished their thought before I hop in there with my opinion. Let them know you are thinking about what they said, and then respond. They will appreciate and value you more because you are a great listener!!!