“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
I know you can hear me, but you are not listening”. What are we really saying when we say that? We are letting another person know we want to be understood. We want them to acknowledge what we say in a way that reassures us we are on the same page. Effective communication is so important in the workplace. How efficiently and effectively we can communicate equates to time and we all know “time is money”. Communication is a two way street – what is said and what is received both play an equal role in effectively communicating with one another.
How can we communicate efficiently and effectively? How do we know when we are understood, and how can we convey we are truly listening and understand others?
7 Habits author Stephen Covey advocates the principle of “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. This principle highlights the importance of really listening to the person we are speaking with. While they are speaking, we are not formulating our argument or waiting for a moment to interrupt. Instead, we are present with them in the moment. We are truly ingesting what they are saying with the intention of connecting with their needs at that moment.
One way to not only show others we are actively listening but to also ensure them we are understanding them is to repeat back to them what they have told us. It gives the other party a chance to confirm or to clarify and correct our understanding. However, we are not just parroting what they say. We want to first acknowledge their statement or feelings and draw them out by providing additional ways of expressing what they have said. For example, if someone says “I don’t like my job”, we don’t just day “You don’t like your job”, we can say “It sounds like something at your work is making you unhappy”. This type of response all at once feels empathetic and opens the door for them to elaborate. It seems simple, but it really works!
Listening to what is not said is just as important to what is said. Some people need to be more drawn out than others, and actively listening can help them do that. We help them find additional ways of expressing their feelings, getting at the core of what it is they want to convey. It is also an easy way to express empathy for another’s feelings. We are acknowledging what they say, not brushing them off or not replying with a “fix-it” solution or unwarranted advice.
When people feel understood they are more willing to open up and express themselves. Feeling free to express oneself is the first step to communicating effectively. Actively listening perpetuates open communication and gives both parties opportunities to clarify their expressions and to demonstrate they care about and understand one another.