What kind of listener are you?

19 Apr


I have recently realized how important it is to be a good listener. I think it is actually one of the most important skills one can have, both in personal and professional life. But from my own experience I can tell that there are many different ways of listening. Let me think about the main types.

Type 1

You are listening, but not with the intention to understand the other person. You are thinking what to say next or how to ‘steal’ the conversation and take it to a topic you want to. I was like this for quite a long time but I have learned that this is not the way it should be. It is disrespectful and it does not lead anywhere.

Type 2

You are listening with the intention to understand the person, but you are not genuinely interested in understanding what the person really thinks about the subject. You just want to build your arguments against what is that person saying. I disagree with this way of listening as well. People will sooner or later be able to tell what is actually going on in your mind while you are listening to them and they will start building negative feelings about you. Again it is disrespectful and it does not lead anywhere.

Type 3

Finally a good one. You are listening with the intention to understand the other person. I know this can be sometimes difficult. We enter every conversation with already formed opinion. That opinion is based in the information set available to us at the moment and on our ability to interpret that information. Once we have our opinion formed, we tend to compare any new information against it. This can often result in dismissing the new piece of information just because that one isolated piece of information does not comply with our ‘fixed’ opinion.

Two things have helped me to overcome this. The first one is called tabula rasa. It means that when we listen to a new opinion, we forget everything we knew about the topic before and we approach it with a blank page – tabula rasa. That means we do not question things as they are being told to us, we firstly try to understand the whole idea and only once we are sure that we understand it well, we start thinking about it critically. An idea often makes sense only if it is understood properly, individual elements of that idea often do not make sense to us. Therefore it is important to understand the whole idea before we start questioning it.

The second thing that has helped me is the concept of thinking hats. What it means is that when we are listening to somebody, we take off our own personal ‘hat’ and we try to put on the ‘hat’ of that other person. We for a moment forget about our own preconceptions and we try to understand things from the other person’s perspective. If I was in the same situation as that person, if I had the same kind of feelings, what would I be thinking about the topic that is being discusses? Only once we fully understand the issue from the perspective of that other person, we can start thinking about it from our own perspective. It takes effort and lot of patience, but the insights and the level of understanding we than get is amazing.

Closing thoughts

The third type is the most polite one because it means that we are not only listening, but we are also genuinely trying to understand that person. I know that it might be less convenient and take more time than the first two types. But what I have realised is that while it might take more time in the short run, it can save us lot of time in the long run.

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