Listen to Understand

The second tenant of the Circle of Trust is a concept coined by the late Steven Covey, and that is to Listen to Understand. One of the best ways which I can describe what this means is to describe how most of us listen. We listen with the intention of replying, rather than understanding.

Replay some of your recent conversations in your mind. It may have started out with you telling a friend about a recent trip you were on. Before you had even finished the first sentence, the friend interrupts and says, “Oh yea, that place is great, when we were there…”, and continues with their story. In fact, the story you wanted to share, really had nothing to do with the location, that was just the back drop.

Listening to Reply

I don’t mean to suggest that your friend was rude. In fact, they probably had good intentions. Maybe they were just trying to bond with you. They wanted to let you know about their experience so you would have more in common. The problem is that you were never able to let them know what your message was really about. This may even make you start to question your relationship, because the conversation left you feeling they were self-involved.

The reality is that most of us listen to reply for varying reasons. Maybe we want to fit in to a new group. Often time we want to let the person speaking know we are smart and have some insight they may enjoy. Other times, like our story above, that we have similar experiences. We want to be liked and to fit in. Unfortunately failing to really listen to another is a recipe for misunderstanding or even hurt feelings.

Listening to Understand

Listening to understand is different. The concept requires us to really be present into the story the person wants to share. Most often, the beginning of their story has little to do with the content. In our example above the trip was simply a back drop for what it was we wanted to share. You might have wanted to tell your friend about the food you ate, the infection you contracted, or even the life changing event that happened while on this trip.

Why Listening to understand is so important

The value of listening to understand, instead of listening to reply can be huge. If they had listened and engaged in your story, the feeling you would have had would have been much different. It might be one about caring, and most likely would have allowed you to become closer. Instead of feeling that your friend was self-centered and may not be worth the relationship

How to change the process, or any behavior for that matter!

If you agree that listening to understand is important, you may want to know how to make the shift. It is a lot easier that it may seem, and yet it still will take a great effort. Remember that you have had years of training, and many role models teaching us the previous behaviors.

After you have become aware of your predisposition to reply instead of understanding there are several things you can do. First is the prepare yourself, mentally. This is a major change in behavior and it will require effort. The preparation is a matter of telling yourself, you will be practicing. Practicing the tools, you are about to learn, recognizing you will probably fail a few times in the process. That is ok. Give yourself a break, and recognize that the change you are making will be worth it.

Body Language and Open Ended Questions

In future blog posts, we will provide and describe some valuable tools you will want to utilize in this quest. Body language play a huge part, both the language you use, as well as theirs. Listening to understand requires a concept called whole body listening. Another key concept is to ask questions of the speaker. Open ended questions are the ones that cannot be answered with a yes or a no. Open ended questions keep a conversation moving, while yes or no questions are conversation killers. In a future post, we will detail how to frame questions that require answers. These questions will allow the conversation to go deep, and will foster a relationship with depth.