Have you ever been in a group of people and observed that they were all talking at each other instead of having conversations with each other? It is interesting to watch as all the information is going out, but never being received. It reminds me of the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, in this case it is clear that sound is being created, but it begs the question, “What is the point?”
Although we have true conversations with people today, much of what is said is never truly heard by the other person. This happens for a variety of reasons . . . We are busy; we have our own story or activity that we are focused on; we are also talking; or we simply don’t want to hear the story the person is telling.
What happens when we don’t listen is that we get wake up calls . . . One day someone tells us that they no longer want to be in a relationship and we have no idea what happened; we find out that someone we know committed a crime and we find ourselves saying, “But he/she was so nice. There weren’t any warning signs;” or we find ourselves less and less willing to have a conversation about issues.
When someone acts out, whether it be through a criminal act, yelling, or shutting down relationships, we should ask ourselves, “Have we been listening to them?” And, this doesn’t mean simply being quiet while they talk. It means to really listen – not to respond or even listen to respond.
In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey says to “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” ® (registered trademark of Franklin Covey Co.) To me, this is the concept of true listening. It is important to listen to understand what the other person is not only saying, but also what they are trying to convey. One should listen for their message, both the obvious message and the underlying message. Getting a sense of the person’s emotions is also a factor in understanding.
Unfortunately, there are far too many situations today where there is no real opportunity for conversations. For instance, the boss may tell the employees how things will change without listening to their concerns. Worse yet, the boss may have input sessions and not really listen. The same may be true within families where the parents don’t listen to their children or where one member of the family dominates all the decision making for the family without accepting input.
Nowhere is the lack of listening more obvious than in the current state of our political system where generally people don’t even have the courtesy to pretend to listen to people with opposing views. The behaviors exhibited by many politicians violate every rule of listening and they certainly don’t seek to understand. They have one goal: Win!
When everything is about winning, whether it is about winning an election or being committed to being the one that gets to decide what movie the family goes to see, there is no true listening. And, really, there is no winning for anyone. You might get to go to the movie of your choice, but what was lost by not listening to the person/people with you? Those losses may be far larger than any enjoyment that you get during those couple of hours.
Now for the jaw-dropper . . . when we don’t listen, we can’t expect to be heard. An attempted conversation about the smallest thing can turn into an argument because of lack of respect for the other person’s point of view. When we don’t listen and try to truly understand, we can scream our message at the top of our lungs and the other person will not hear us. And, why should they? Without respect and understanding, there is no real conversation. If you want someone to hear you, start by really listening to them.
Since true listening can make a world of difference, consider how the world would be different if ALL people really listened to each other. There would be far fewer misunderstandings because people simply weren’t paying attention. Bosses, friends, family, and co-workers would really understand your views, your desires, and goals to the extent that you explain them to them. Anger and hatred in the world would turn into civil discourse about local and world issues because it is difficult to hate when you understand the other person’s perspective.
As individuals, we cannot change everyone to create listening around the world. However, we do have the power to listen ourselves. Perhaps if we listen and encourage others to listen, we can make a small improvement in the world!
Challenge of the month . . . try really listening to people. You may be amazed!