The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. So someone is speaking to you, expressing their thoughts carefully for you to understand. You wait for the breaks in the conversation, when you think they’ve finished talking, and then you interrupt with your own piece of information or repeat what was just said. “Oh, I know just how you feel,” you say, or “I had the same thing happen to me. Let me tell you about it!”
You fail to listen. You create your own ideas. You miss the message and the opportunity to understand. It’s about your agenda, not theirs. Often, you think you’ve understood what was said, but the reality is that you spent the whole time formulating a reply and forgot to actually listen. Arguably, listening is the most difficult skill in communication, and we’re getting worse at it.
Another phenomenon is called competitive listening. This is when we have a negative reaction to what is being said because we don’t agree with the other person. We immediately stop listening and the conversation is over.
Let’s face it, we’re not going to agree with everything everybody says. That is part of life, and we need to accept it. Instead of falling into traps like confirmation bias and competitive listening, let’s try to concentrate on understanding by becoming a little more empathetic when we listen.
Forget the details and listen for the big picture. It’s important to get the overall point of the conversation first. Statements can be easily misunderstood, especially when they differ from your own opinions and cause you to listen competitively.
Don’t jump to conclusions. Let the speaker articulate his or her point of view completely. This will give you time to think it through before formulating a response.
Remember, it’s perfectly OK to disagree with someone, but you need to first understand their message. Ask yourself why their message may be true and what circumstances would make it true. Asking this will put you “in their shoes,” so to speak, and will make it more challenging to argue with them.
In summary, most of us have never been taught to listen, so it’s really not our fault. Effective listening is skill-based and must be learned and practiced. You must approach listening with a positive attitude and the intent to understand the other person completely. This paradigm is completely different from the usual paradigm. It gets you within the other person’s reality. You put yourself in it so that you can see things the way the other person sees them and understand the way they feel. Your reply will then come from a basis of complete understanding.