Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Listening: How not to shoot first and apologize later

The events in the world recently and from what I've seen in interactions in my own life and the lives of those around me over time have served to remind that it is not only things like cooking that are a lost art society, but LISTENING is also a lost art.  Listening doesn't always mean listening to spoken words, but also to cues as well, but I digress.  I know I have been guilty of one or more of these at times, so I am not speaking from a position of holier than thou, but passing off what I've felt, seen and learned or come to understand. They sometimes refer to this desire as ESH or "Experience, Strength & Hope" in step programs.  Anyway, I came up with the title of this blog based off words from "Everything Falls Apart" by Dog's Eye View.  It occurred to me that often times listening effectively can prevent immediate misunderstandings and confrontations which later require apologizing for flying off the handle.

But back to listening.  We can recite most of the words that another says, but does that mean we are actually listening to them?  Listening means more than just hearing, it means taking an effort to consider what the other party is saying.  Anyone can repeat by rote, but not everyone takes time to consider the words/intent of the speaker.  From my perspective there are a number of things that get in the way of effective listening, not necessarily in any order:
  • Being too focused on other things while 'listening'
    • Being focused on something outside of the speaker.
      • Your bad day at the work.
      • Your bad interaction with a family, friend, police, etc.
      • A future event/situation/consideration. 
      • Things that grab your attention: TV, music.
    • Trying to come up with a response while the speaker is still talking.
      • Eagerly finishing their thought, rather than allowing them to express it.
        • Is a way of telling them the speaker that you are finished listening.
        • Can be a way stealing their thunder aka stealing the floor from them.
        • Results in the wrongly predicting what the speaker will say.
        • Can be a way of defending yourself or your position before the speaker has given you a reason too.  (Defensive listening)
      • Letting them 'finish' but then immediately go into response mode.
        • Is a way of telling them, you are worried more about your response than their words. In other words, wanting to 'sound good.'
        • Can be a way of expressing defensiveness.  Something may have triggered you and instead of asking for clarification or thinking through what they said, you jump into 'defensive response' mode.  (Defensive listening)
        • Can be a way of condescendingly checking off the "I listened" box when you really didn't.


Now from my perspective, you can be a good listener if:

  • Hear out your speaker.  Giving him/her time to make his/her points effectively and consider what they are meaning. 
  • Focus on what they are saying and not just being able to recite their words.
  • Ask for clarification when the opportunity presents itself, but not before the speaker has had a chance to elaborate.
  • Focus on what they are saying, rather than just formulating a response.
  • Ask intelligent and respectful questions and limit asking the speaker to repeat his or herself.
  • Put the ideas of the speaker in motion where it makes sense to.
    • Where it is feasible.  Sometimes the ideas are an ideal or a goal, not something to immediately reach.
    • Benefit one or more parties: preferably the listener, the speaker and the subject(s) of the speaker.
    • Where it can advance the relationship.  Can show the speaker that you really listened and gave consideration of their thoughts and feelings.
--

This focus on how to listen wouldn't be complete IF we don't take time to actually focus on the speaker as well.  A speaker can be a poor 'listener' as well.  A speaker can be a poor listener if he or she:
  • Doesn't pause to let his or her audience take a moment to digest what they've heard.
    • Avoiding proper pauses can cause the audience to get overwhelmed.
    • Assumes that the audience can follow his/her line of thought at the same speed the speaker does.
  • Doesn't effectively read the cues of his audience.
    • Shows the speaker is more interested in his/her words then reaching the audience.
    • Shows inflexibility on the part of the speaker.  Cannot adjust to audience needs, potentially missing a great opportunity to reach them.
    • Can result in the speaker talking down to, talking past or talking over the head of the audience.
    • Can lose his/her audience to tears if he or she is ignoring what the audience is 'saying'.
  • Makes the discussion/speech all about him/her. 
    • Shows the audience that they are just a backdrop vs. being a integral part of the discussion or speech.
    • Is contrary to relating to the audience.  In relating:
      • They say their piece, but then step out of the way of the point being made, rather than to continue to point out their role.
      • They focus on the takeaway and what they've learned, rather than their own personal importance in the matter.
Whether it's an informal conversation, a group or panel discussion, a give and take session, an interview or speech to a audience, knowing how to listen is crucial in advancing the conversation, the idea and/or the relationship.  Focusing on being a good listener can help to avoid misunderstandings and confrontations and can promote better relationship, personal or otherwise. It can also prevent a person from sounding foolish in response (as if you respond to what you heard rather than what was said, you can sound like a fool).  Showing disregard as a listener can lead to misunderstandings--shoot first, apologize later, confrontations and lead to either a halting of progress if not destruction of a relationship--personal or otherwise.

As a final aside, just like most things in life their are exceptions in more understanding of 'listening'.  

  • When you interview for a job, position or role, you have to make yourself the subject of your words, ideas, relating.  You are not only advancing your ideas, but also yourself as the messenger or implementer of the ideas.
  • When the other party or parties steal the oxygen and don't give you space to absorb what they are saying or to respond, you have to assertively (and unfortunately perhaps 'rudely') grab control of the floor.
  • When time is critical (as in an emergency) and you need to act fast, sometimes you have to take what the speaker said and run with it, even if they aren't quite finished.  
  • Sometimes when the speaker is totally out of focus and there is an opportunity, it can be useful to 'interrupt' them to get them on point.