Communication is an essential skill in life. We invest years in learning how to read, write, and speak, but what about listening? How much training have we received to truly understand another human being? The truth is, most of us have had little to no training in the art of listening deeply. We often prioritize seeking to be understood, rather than seeking to understand others. But why does this happen, and what can we do about it?
It is a common default for humans to listen with the intent of responding. We want to have something to say, something to add to the conversation. However, when we listen with the intent to reply, we fail to grasp the true meaning behind someone’s words. This inclination can prevent us from truly understanding the problem or the perspective of the person we are communicating with. We filter their message through our own life experiences and prematurely decide what they mean before they even finish communicating. We provide solutions without fully grasping the underlying issues. We may even ignore the other person completely or selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation. This “listening” approach hinders our ability to connect with others and inhibits meaningful understanding.
To break free from this pattern, we must practice empathic listening. Empathic listening is the key to building trust and making deposits into “Emotional Bank Accounts.” We need to understand that nothing we do is a deposit unless the other person truly perceives it as such. By empathically listening, we create an environment where the speaker feels heard, understood, and valued. It involves not only listening with our ears but also with our eyes and our hearts.
When practicing empathic listening, we mimic the other person by rephrasing their content and reflecting their feelings. We listen not only for the words being said but also for the underlying feelings, meanings, and behaviors. It is a holistic approach that encompasses intuition and empathy. This gives them the space to process their thoughts and emotions. As they gain confidence in our sincere desire to understand, the barriers between their internal world and their communication begin to dissolve. However, it’s important to recognize that empathic listening is an ongoing process. When the speaker becomes emotional again, we must revert to empathic listening, providing them with the psychological air they need to express themselves fully. By engaging in empathic listening, we can bridge the gap between ourselves and others, fostering deeper connections, growth, and negotiating power.
Seeking first to understand, then to be understood is a crucial habit for effective communication. By actively practicing empathic listening, we can break free from the pattern of listening solely to respond. We can create an environment where others feel truly heard and understood. It takes effort and practice, but the rewards in terms of connection, growth, and improved relationships are well worth it.