Most of us live in what we perceive to be a fact. I listen. 

However, I have found that most of the time, we do not. We are generally well-meaning and do not listen to much of what is being said to us. We listen selectively. We listen for, “Do I agree or do I disagree?” Or we listen for, “I have an idea about that.” Or we listen long enough so we can respond, and then often politely tune out until they are done, and it is our turn again. 

It is a fact from studies that people drop out of conversations every 12-18 seconds to process what is being said. Then we factor in wanting our own voice heard, and we have the prescription for not really listening and not really getting heard. It is clear that we often disagree vehemently and one of the factors may be that we don’t listen. We certainly don’t connect, and we don’t listen to connect. What I have found in myself and in thousands of clients is that we listen to be heard, not to hear and not to understand. In my view, this may be the source of the way the world is right now – filled with conflict and lack of connection.

This is not a new problem, but one that is costing us connections in both our professional and personal lives. As human beings, we get pleasure out of being right. We get a neurochemical reward in terms of a hormonal surge, and we tend to do things that keep that going, such as only listening to argue our point of view.

Consider this from an article by Susan Steinbrecher at Inc.com: 

Authentic, two-way communication is a lost art. Our interactions have become relegated to short, digital bursts of texts, emails and tweets. [It] seems that for many, it’s easier to deal with communication that way — but the problem is, it’s one-sided. Productive debate or simply engaging in two-way dialogue can be a major challenge. This has led to a breakdown in interpersonal communication. Whether you’re having a discussion with your coworker, spouse, child or friend — many people lack the confidence, competence, and comfort to interact with one another — particularly when the stakes are high.”

I think we all can agree that we have some breakdowns in communication at this time. Most people concentrate on what to say. I am asserting that is the wrong focus, as it is in actually listening that you will find resolution and growth in connection and communication.

I would suggest you take a month to see if you can increase your listening efforts and see what difference it makes. Here are a few things you can try:

  • When you are listening and notice you want to answer back while someone is talking, bite your tongue – really – as a way to bring yourself back to listening, or do some other practice that interrupts your automatic reaction and has you come back.
  • If you notice you missed something, you could even say, “I missed that. Can you repeat that please?” You will get a ton of respect by showing interest and wanting them to get heard.
  • Try to notice how often you drop out; keep a checklist and make a mark every time you drop out of listening. This then allows you to start correcting it naturally.
  • If you notice you want to argue, stop, take a deep breath, and ask them to keep going and thank them at the end. Don’t jump in. Say you have to digest what they said. That leaves someone respected and you can actually begin to really understand their views.
  • Consider that everyone has a point of view and it is a valid point of view. Listen for, “What is their view?” versus, “That is the wrong view,” and see what evolves.

I would love to hear what difference it makes when you listen, really.