JW Way Fundamental #5: Listen Fully
“Listening is more than simply not speaking. Give others your undivided attention. Set aside your own judgments and preconceived notions. Listen with focus. Most importantly, listen to understand.”
Anyone familiar with Steven Covey and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? Stealing a page or two from him on the topic of listening: Habit #5 – Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood. As Dr. Covey describes, sometimes we are so focused on getting our message across that we completely forget that the person we are attempting to communicate with is speaking from their own frame of reference:
“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say; the questions you are going to ask. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before they finish communicating.”
We are probably all guilty of this – whether we are communicating with a spouse, a co-worker, or a client. We almost always have a story we can relate, or a comment that is on-point, and instead of listening fully, we are simply waiting to jump in to share.
Dr. Covey posits that the highest form of listening is empathic listening and describes empathic listening as being inside another person’s frame of reference – if you look out through it, you see the world the way they see it and you understand their paradigm. “Empathic listening takes time, but it doesn’t take anywhere near as much time as it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you’re already miles down the road, to redo, to live with unexpressed and unsolved problems”.
Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you thought you were listening to a client’s concerns but really you were only hearing the words and not understanding their meaning or the message behind the words – and before you know it, you’ve written a letter to opposing counsel, or drafted a pleading, only to realize (too late) that what the client was saying was really something else.
Did you know the word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent”? Listening actually requires silence – silencing your heart; silencing your schedule; removing distraction. Listening requires grace and empathy for the other. Listening means learning to comfortably sit with your own silence and creating safety in space for the other. It means sitting and digesting the story of other. Empathetic listening fosters a culture of healing.
Listening is a gift that we give to each other.
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” Larry King.
About the Author: Jill M. Kubek is a family law paralegal at Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk