Listen to understand

Arlington is a city in Virginia, famous for the Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon.  It lies on the River Potomac, directly across the nation's capital Washington DC. In fact, they're so close to each other that to me, they seem to be one city - Washington DC. But they are not, I've been told. So I took a bus to DC and then the metro to Arlington's Crystal City, where the American Management Association has its offices.

The seminar that I chose to attend was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I believe everybody has read the book by Stephen Covey, watched the videos, tried to follow the advice more or less successfully and so have I. But I wanted to find more about how to be more effective, communicate effectively, how to build good relationships with people, good rapport with colleagues, how to model the way, how to motivate and be motivated, how to say no, how to balance the private and professional lives.

There were only six of us and I really enjoyed working with the participants  from different walks of life. Our instructor was Franklin Covey's Vicki Nartker,  who skillfully led this three-day workshop and made us feel comfortable and relaxed, even though she assigned us an evening opportunity (a. k. a. homework) after the end of each of the three  full  days. No one can develop a habit in 3 days, so we were paired up so that we can support each other and help each other build the habits and make sure we complete our contract - our big rocks over the next 7 weeks.

The most revealing for me was emphatic listening. S. Covey writes in his book:

"Seek first to understand"  involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. They're either speaking or preparing to speak. They are filtering everything through their own paradigm, reading their own autobiography into other people's lives."

We've all been there and we've done that. How often have you said "He just doesn't want to listen to me!" - when in fact,  he does want it, he needs you to listen to him, he needs you to hear and understand him. He doesn't want you to do anything, but listen. Don't talk, don't give advice, just listen and reflect his feelings and words, not yours. For most of us this is difficult. Most of us listen with the intent to reply. That's autobiographical listening - we see other people's problems through our own glasses. Emphatic listening takes time and it requires both intent and skill, but it is worth it.

Perhaps we should use talking sticks for listening. Only a person holding the stick can speak for as long as they're understood.

My take-aways from Habit 5 are these three great tips for emphatic listening:

Focus on your intent.
Don't worry about the correct response.
Don't be afraid of silence.


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