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Listening with Understanding and Empathy

How much would you pay someone who offered to sit tight, their elbows fixed on the table with their hands on their mouth, and tilted forward toward you listening to you for as long as it takes until you had nothing more to add whether your speech were stressful, accusatory, or praiseful? Or what was the last time you listened to someone from start to end without interrupting? Those that listen possess the most powerful spiritual strength only known to able leaders. You will not understand if you do not listen. You will not be productive if you don’t leave your seat to step in another person’s shoes, which is empathy. Let’s consider these terms more in-depth, one at a time.


Listening with understanding

My mentor had a big impact in my life. He is an impactful person. He once told me that listening is an act of love. If you don’t love someone, you will not listen to that person. I couldn’t agree more. Those that listen have friends. Even if they don’t have too many friends, which is not healthy anyways, they have good friends and their friendships last. The opposite of that statement is also true. Those that listen less have less friends. In addition to what precedes, listening is an art.

You cannot play the guitar if you do not understand how it works. I took guitar lessons but I can’t play it. You must understand an instrument or an art to practice it. The best thing with any art is that you master it by doing it. Listening is no different; you master the art of listening by practicing listening. Now listening to understand is different from listening to react. The mistake we all make is that we listen for a very short time and we are ready to react. We do it when we argue with someone and we do it when we chat amicably as well. But the best results come when we open ourselves to listening to understand. If you are curious to know how, you are a good listener. Listen to this.

Andy Ecklund is a communication coach. He said that the biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. A study at Princeton University found that there is a gap between what we hear and what we understand. One reason for that gap is that we listen to ourselves even in a conversation instead of listening to each other. Ironically, Julian Treasure, another authority in the field of communication, posits that we spend 60 percent of our time listening to others. So, what’s the matter? The matter is that we listen without understanding.

Have you ever had to listen to two sounds at a time? Take for instance, your friend is telling you something on Skype and your baby is telling an exciting story right beneath the table. Sometimes all you do is to say insignificant things to each of them. you might interject with huh huh. Yes. That’s all you can do. It is one thing to listen and another to understand. By the time I’m done here, I hope you will improve your listening and understanding.

There is a filter in our mind that only picks up what we want to hear, it is what matches our opinions and beliefs. Let me take a very extreme example. If you are super conservative, you can’t understand that some people are attracted to the people of their gender. You are so shunning about it that you won’t even let anyone tell you that circumstances can make some people to shift their preferences. In such a conversation, you will only listen to what your mind is telling you. That is one of the reasons we don’t understand what we hear.

Another likely reason is that our brain drifts to other questions while listening to someone. Now while I can’t guarantee you that you will master a hundred percent of the art of listening to understand, you can at least gain some percentages if you do what I’m about to tell you. Those tips will help you in any environment and circumstance when you need to listen.


How to listen to understand?

When you listen to others, there are two alternatives. Either you will believe that what the other person is saying is true or it is false. If you believe they are false, then the communication becomes distracted and your understanding is jeopardized. But if you believe what they say is true, then you will look for reasons why it is true. You will start to listen to the context and process of what the other person is saying even for what you did not hear from the speaker. You will make an effort of the intelligence to understand the other person.

That’s the first tip right there.

I’m not going to ask you to believe or disbelieve what other people say as that would not be appropriate of me, but what I’d suggest when listening to others is to believe that there is something true in what the other person is saying. If you do this, you will search through their statements to find out what could be true about it. The more you search, the more you will understand. You see that understanding does not necessarily mean remembering the words the other person used but remembering the idea which is the context, the rationale or the reason why they said what they said, and the state of mind in which they were when they were telling you their story. To get to this point, I’m going to give you a list of seven things that Andy Ecklund has found.

1, get rid of outside distractions

2, open your mind

3, listen for the big picture, not the details

4, note – but don’t judge – nonverbal communication

5, do not jump to conclusions or interrupt

6, paraphrase the big picture, then add in details

And 7, challenge yourself first


The topic is so important that I’m going to list here ten other tips that Dianne Schilling designed to an effective listening. You can access these resources I quote in the description below depending on where you are watching this.

Dianne says that:

  1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
  2. Be attentive, but relaxed.
  3. Be attentive, but relaxed.
  4. Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
  5. Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
  6. Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
  7. Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
  8. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
  9. Give the speaker regular feedback.
  10. Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.

You can take it anywhere you want. These tips are very important.

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