September 20, 2011
On Listening by Sheryl Eberly
I can be a terrible listener, and I’m trying to understand why. I’ve discovered one thing that contributes to my challenge is there are often two voices contributing at once to conversations. The first voice belongs to the person who is speaking to me; the second is my own internal voice. It’s the voice of my thoughts. Often these two voices compete.
Here’s what I’ve observed: As I’m attempting to listen, the other person’s voice can sound as jumbled and spotty as a weak radio signal. Their lips are moving right there in front of me, and yet I’m not really hearing what they’re saying. This is because the voice of my own thoughts is coming through clearer to me, and more urgently. It can be demanding and certain. I’m listening more to the thought track in my head than to the other person.
I want to stay alert to this and find ways to focus more on what the other person is saying.
Have you noticed this dynamic in your conversations? Here’s an example of how it can crop up – Imagine an office conversation between two co-workers who are discussing their roles in a project:
FIRST PERSON: I don’t think we should move forward with this project in the way you’re suggesting. What you’re asking will require skills I don’t think our team has. Plus we’re busy right now, and it’s not the time to try something new. I recommend moving forward at a different time and in a different way.
SECOND PERSON: Okay, we’ll find a way to get the project done.
(Internal thoughts, not spoken aloud): You’re selling the team short. You have no idea how much more productive we could all be. This project would benefit from our full engagement. I’ll find a way to convince you. It’ll just take some time. I have an idea about how this will play out, and you’ll come to see it my way I’m sure.
As the second person listens, he pays more attention to his own ideas and plans, and while he gives a brief assent to the ideas the other person expresses, internally he’s discounting their validity and starting to form his own rebuttal. How could he be a better listener? How can you and I deal with the same dynamics in our conversations?
Consider these approaches:
- Be aware of the two voices. Put your internal one on the back burner.
- Give the other person time to fully convey what they want to say. Ask questions to be sure you’re clear about their meaning.
- Paraphrase back to the other person what you’ve heard them saying. Ask them: Is that what you meant?
- Listen beyond the other person’s words. Is there emotion in their eyes or voice? When there is, they’re telling you something that’s important to them.
- Give value to the other person’s perspective.
- STAY aware of the two voices.
What have you discovered about how to be a more effective listener? We’d like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.