People understand me so poorly that they even don’t understand my complaint about them not understanding me.
- Soren Kierkegaard
People want to be understood. You want to be understood, don’t you? You know how frustrating it can be when people don’t understand you, no matter how hard you try, over and over again.
Habit 5 is about this phenomenon: Seek first to understand and then to be understood. And as with all of the habits, this one not about learning a new trick or a set of techniques. The habits are about changing paradigms, about changing the beliefs you have about the topics of the habits. This habit is about communication, effective interaction between people.
What’s your intention?
Why do you listen to people? If you’re like most people in most conversations, you primarily listen to give a response! And while your listening, you’re preparing for a response already. Now how can you listen effectively, when you’re thinking how to formulate the sentence that’s about to leave you lips? Covey sums up four typical
not listening at all
not listening at all, but with mindless responses (“Uh-hum”, “Yeah, that’s really interesting”)
- Selective listening
not listening to everything, but hearing what you want to hear
- Attentive listening
really listening to the words
Effective listening is about really wanting to listen, wanting to understand the other. To achieve this you have to go beyond the words.
Full scale listening
To really understand people you have to use empathic listening. It’s not just hearing what they’re saying. Empathic listening is a full body activity. In communication the words are only a small part of the total communication. It’s what we refer to as verbal communication. But there’s also a non-verbal part to communicating. It’s even an essential
part for effective communication.
In real life people do this by expressing emotion by gestures, frowns, smiles etc. On the internet this wasn’t possible, so emoticons were created to substitute for the lack of non-verbal language. In real life we also use the tone of our voice, the loudness of it, the pitch etc. This is already harder on the internet, but a lot of people seem to know HOW TO SCREAM, don’t they? Add some colors, and you get the picture of the mood they’re in.
Empathic listening is about all these aspects of communication at the same time. Does the body language show the same thing as the words that are being spoken, do they express the same feeling? If not, what does that mean, how can you respond?
Logic versus emotion
In conversation not all parts are filled with emotions. There are two parts of a conversation, the logical part and the emotional part. Some parts of a conversation are simply logical, and you can respond to that part by asking questions and giving advice and so on. However, when the responses become emotional, empathic listening is the better option.
The empathic listening responses are:
- mimic content
just repeat what was just said
- rephrase content
repeat, but in your own words
- reflect feeling
express what you think the other feels
- rephrase content and reflect feeling
combine the latter two
Empathic listening is effective when you have the best interest of the other in mind, if you genuinely seek the welfare of the other.
Now to be understood
That was a rather long part about how to understand the other. How about being understood? That’s important as well of course. However, it’s the understanding part where most people have to train their skills. That’s why that part of this chapter is so elaborate. In this article, I’m not going into being understood anymore, I’ll save that one for another post.
Next week habit 6: Synergize