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Listening: It’s Not About You

Friend 1: So I have this problem, my boss at work is really on my case lately and every time she….(tells problem)

Friend 2: I had that one time, this is what I did…(gives advice)

Ever been in this situation? I’m willing to bet Facebook’s IPO that you have. I’m also willing to bet a substantial amount of money that you did what Friend 2 did as well…gave advice. Advice is great, but there’s a time and place for it…and with the information that you have just heard from the person, I can guarantee you that you don’t have enough information.
Here’s one of the first steps in Listening better…you ready??

Don’t assume you know the whole story

That’s right, you’ve heard the old saying about assuming right? Never, ever, ever, assume you know the whole story after the person has just started talking about it. Instead of first relying on your gut instinct (to start talking), why not try a new approach?

The Listening Approach

Here’s the first thing I tell people about listening. When you feel words coming to your throat to respond to what the person is saying. Shut up! That’s right…don’t say anything right away…give yourself at least 20 seconds of silence before responding. There are two reasons for this:

They might not be done…they may be just taking a breathe before they continue on with their story.

It gives you time to think of a question to ask about the story or the person (Can you tell me more about that? What was that like for you? Etc.)

Secondly, if you feel like your going to open your yapper and start talking; Shut up! Yep…proceed to #2 above. Ask a question instead of telling the person about your own experiences. Find out why it bothered them, what was their intent behind doing what they did/said, what do they feel the motive behind the other person’s actions? Why is this bothering them? What do they think they should do about it? What steps have they already taken to address the situation? (there’s a few questions to get you started…)

Thirdly, if you can’t hold your tongue any longer and you just need to say something, then clarify. Clarify that you heard the person correctly and name their emotion that they are experiencing, then check back in with the person to make sure that you got it right, then ask a question. Rinse and repeat. By repeating back what you are hearing (read: don’t parrot them…state in your own words what you are hearing them say) you are acknowledging that you are listening and the speaker feels that you’ve heard them and understand them.

Got it? Alright…let’s get this out of the way since it needs to be said…
Listening is not about you – you’re not that important in this moment.
By giving advice, by getting defensive, by shooting remarks back, by telling your own story, you’re making it about you. “This is what I would do….” – Guess what…you’re not them and you never will be, so shut up and listen. I know it’s harsh, but you’ll get your chance to be the person speaking as well so be patient and take a listening seat.

So here are a few things to get you started on Listening this week:

  1. Don’t think you’re going to do it amazing right away. Start small, take baby steps, work up to the whole package deal. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s easy to crash and burn. Take time
  2. Start with people you know, a friend, spouse, your kid, try it out…can’t hurt to try right? Try just a few situations to truly listen to this week…next week try a few more.
  3. Take breaks. You don’t become a master of anything overnight. Take your time with it.
  4. Clear distractions. Turn your phone on silent.

Jason Dykstra

Jason is a Conflict Management Specialist who is helping organizations and congregations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He specializes in relational and communication issues and uses his experience and training in mediation, group facilitation, conflict management coaching, speaking and teaching to aid you and your surroundings to better… MORE >

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