We as humans have a desire to try and fix every problem we encounter. We want to be able to find solutions wherever we can, and as quickly as possible.
This works in the same way if the problem is ours or someone else’s.
The result of this can be that we offer our advice and opinion to others before we really understand what their problem is.
Habit 5 suggests that before we can properly offer an effective solution, we need to understand what the problem really is.
The key to doing this is through empathetic listening.
Listening To Reply vs Listening To Understand
“You’ve spent years of your life learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?”
This is a question posed by Stephen Covey himself.
No one ever really teaches us how to listen. As a result, we learn how to listen to reply rather than to understand.
We’re always thinking about the next thing we’re going to say as this helps keep the conversation going. This can lead, however, to us simply waiting for the point at which it will be our opportunity to speak again.
As a result, we don’t really hear what’s being said.
Sometimes we’re half listening or possibly completely ignoring what we’re being told.
Our Approach To Problem Solving
We approach the problems other people bring to us by looking at them autobiographically.
This involves forming our advice in reference to our own experience and how we would deal with a situation.
In giving advice there are four ways we tend to respond:
- Evaluate – Choosing to either agree or disagree with what the person is saying
- Probe – Asking questions based on our own experience
- Advise – Offering advice using experiences we have had
- Interpret – trying to understand what a person’s motive and behaviour is using our own motives and behaviours
Each of these four responses filter things through a lens of our own perspective and experience.
By doing this, we risk not really understanding the person’s problem at all or offering poor/unhelpful advice.
Listening empathetically means making a shift in our behaviour.
While it can be difficult initially to make this change, the benefit is improved communication from the outset of relationships.
Most of us listen through one of these levels:
- Pretending to listen
- Selective hearing
- Attentive listening
To listen empathetically we would need to practice attentive listening.
This involves immersing ourselves in the conversation. It’s about listening to the words someone is saying and also paying attention to their body language.
Empathetic listening also means that we are slower in offering advice. We take time to make sure we are clear about what the problem is and why it is a problem for them.
One way to do this is by repeating back to the person what we think their problem is and asking for confirmation before we proceed to give advice.
Seeking To Be Understood
What exactly does this mean?
When the conversation has moved from the point of a person telling you what their problem is to asking you for advice, this is where we can seek to be understood.
By doing so, you have given that person the full opportunity to say what they need to say.
You have heard them and understood what is wrong.
You are then finally in a position to give your advice and have them hear you. This then puts you in the position of seeking to be understood.
How Can You Practice Listening To Understand?
Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply observe what is going on around you.
Covey said that 60% of the way we communicate is through our body language.
It is therefore incredibly important to be fully involved in your own conversations, and carefully watch those going on around you, to truly understand what is being said.
And often, what’s not being said.
How Can This Help You Build Relationships?
It can be incredibly frustrating when you ask for help with a problem and come away from the conversation feeling like you weren’t listened to.
Listening to understand and seeking to be understood, rather than simply listening to reply, improves our relationships.
People will know that they can come to you with a problem and that the solutions you offer will be right for them.
They will feel heard by you.
This will help to improve both your existing relationships and in making new ones.
It will also help to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings through miscommunication that can damage relationships. This is because you will both understand (and be understood) as to what needs to be done.