Is this the biggest barrier to effective communication?

Imagine this situation: a friend is talking to you, and very quickly, you feel that you have just the answer he needs so you’re carefully crafting your response before he’s even finished speaking. You can’t understand why he looks a bit non-plussed by your swift reply. You’re just trying to help, after all, and the quicker, the better, surely?

How about this? You go to the doctor and she starts to write out a prescription after just a couple of sentences about your lingering headache so she completely misses the fact you’ve gone on to talk about pains in your stomach. How would you feel? Rushed? Ignored? Short-changed?

Ever overheard this kind of exchange?

‘How was your holiday?’

‘Great, thanks, we took the children to Disneyland Paris’

‘Really? Oh, we decided not to bother with that one, we thought it was much better to go to Disneyland in the States. So much more authentic.’

‘Well, we really enjoyed it and Eurostar was great, the children loved…’

‘I can’t bear Eurostar, we got stuck on it a couple of years ago and then when we finally got to Paris, the weather was awful, and then Daisy ate something odd and we had to go to a French hospital and I couldn’t believe how few medical people there speak decent English, it was shocking!’

My friend calls that last example ‘I-jacking’ – a much snappier name than conversational one-upmanship!

What these exchanges have in common is neatly summed up by this quote from Stephen Covey:

‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply’

The art of listening to understand is known as active (or empathetic or reflective) listening. Some of the key attributes of this kind of listening are –

  • putting aside all other distractions and devoting your attention solely to the speaker
  • not interrupting
  • reflecting back to the speaker what you’ve heard and how you think s/he feels
  • not preparing your response whilst the speaker is still talking
  • not judging
  • asking questions to clarify.

All of these can be summed up as ‘listening to understand’. It’s not rocket science but it’s harder than you think and takes practice. For me as a coach (and a friend!), the key thing is to remind myself of that intention to understand rather than reply.

Menninger writes:

‘Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.’

That’s a pretty good reason to listen, don’t you think?

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: are you an I-jacker? Could some active listening improve your relationships, both at work and at home?

What do you think?

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?


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