“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
~Stephen Covey

No matter what topic we’re brought in to teach when we’re with a client, we nearly always end up talking about communication. It could be authentic leadership, or management skills, or strategic thinking, or influence and persuasion…whatever it is, they all seem to boil down to communication, because communication seems to be at the heart of all issues related to work – and life.

Often people do not see listening as a part of communication. They focus on the words that are spoken or voiced, rather than the “silent side” of communications. Stephen Covey’s thoughts remind us that, if communication is at the heart of nearly all issues, then listening – or the lack of listening – is at the heart of failed communication.

Watch two people argue, and you witness the truth of his statement – you see each person chomping at the bit to reply rather than focusing on trying to understand the other person’s perspective. Watch yourself in an argument, and most likely you’ll notice the same thing. As coaches we are often brought in to “shadow coach” – to watch clients interact with their colleagues, so that we can offer them immediate feedback. That’s often when I notice this tendency the most. As one person speaks, you can almost see the gears grinding in the other person’s head, as he or she formulates a reply. And as that person replies, you can notice the faraway look in the first person’s eyes, as she realizes she wasn’t really listened to or understood…and she then turns to formulating her reply.

How can we stop ourselves from formulating our reply when someone else is talking to us? How can we push ourselves to listen – to truly listen – and to “seek first to understand” as Stephen Covey suggests? A first step is to be present and mindful – to stay in the moment and to fully hear the other person’s voice and words in the moment. A second step is to question – yourself and others. Ask yourself what their point of view might be. Ask yourself what they truly want and what they’re trying to convey? And ask them. Ask questions for clarification. Don’t assume you know what they mean. I’ve learned that often when we “know” what someone means, we are wrong. Ask them what they want you to hear and understand. Ask them what matters to them, and why. And a third step is to catch yourself when you’re preparing your reply as they’re talking, and to call yourself back to step one and two.

We all do think through our replies when we’re supposed to be listening, but with a little bit of effort, we can focus more on listening instead.

How do you listen for understanding?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.


For support in learning to truly listen, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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Photo Credit: Javier Brosch/Bigstock.com

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