The Art of Listening

The Untaught Skill

Listening for feeling is a rarely taught skill.  Within the Common Core, listening is found.  Here is one of the standards:

Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.

I have a feeling people assume that only facts are being said.  But, how often do we say something we don’t really mean?  Or, there is a hidden meaning in what we say?

Empathetic Listening

In order to understand a person, we must understand his/her emotions.  Human behavior stems from emotions.  Throughout our lives we are told to be empathetic, or to try to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.  Empathetic listening is actively being empathetic.  But, it has a bonus!  We get to check if we are correct almost immediately.

Below is an example of empathetic listening done by a father to his son.  This is taken from Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

S: Boy, Dad, I’ve had it!  School is for the birds!

D: You’re really frustrated about school.

S: I sure am.  It’s totally impractical.  I’m not getting a thing out of it.

D: You feel like school’s not doing you any good.

S: Well, yeah.  I’m just not learning anything that’s going to help me.  I mean, look at Joe.  He’s dropped out of school and he’s working on cars.  He’s making money.  Now that’s practical.

D: You feel that Joe really has the right idea.

S: Well, I guess he does in a way.  He’s really making money now.  But in a few years, I bet he’ll probably be ticked off at himself.

Note the responses by the dad.  They contain both the content of what the son was saying and the feeling the son had.  This is a great model of how to show someone you understand them, both in content and in emotion.  Now, if the dad was wrong in either the content or emotion, the son would correct him.  That was the added bonus I mentioned earlier.  Also, compare this to how a “normal” person would respond.  A normal person would likely argue with the son as soon as leaving school was brought up, which is a non-productive dialogue.

  Why is Empathetic Listening an Important Skill?

People are far happier when they are understood.  By showing, or at least attempting to show, that you understand, the other person feels important.  This develops trust, which is required for complete honesty.  And with honesty, we get all the data we need to solve problems.  Who doesn’t like solving problems?  Boom.  Happy.

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