Did You Hear Me? What Did I Say?

Are we listening?

Did You Hear Me? What Did I Say?

Do we ever ask people that? Do people ever ask us that?

I would say that at least on occasion, we all do. Why?

Listening is hard, it is not a gift, it is not a talent, it is a skill to be learned.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ―Ernest Hemingway

I recently worked through the book, “The Lost Art of Listening” by Michael P. Nichols and learned a lot. There were so many valuable insights that I have seen in practice after some reflection and observation of my habits and the habits of others.


Let’s begin with the reason for listening.

We have all heard the expression, “You have two ears and one mouth, you should listen twice as much as you speak.” But, this expression does not always come into play.

There are many reasons for listening but let’s begin with what I have noticed as some of the common ones in my own life and experience.

Some people listen to:
1. Build a closer relationship
2. Create trust
3. Understand
4. Learn
5. Show respect
6. Have a conversation
7. Respond
8. Act interested
9. Get something
10. Attain an answer

I would say that there are numerous other reasons that people also listen, yet, those are the first that I thought of and the most common that I have seen or observed recently.

I am certainly not going to imply that all are proper or appropriate reasons to listen.

The top half is relational and the bottom half is more one-sided.

I’ll dive into the top half, the relational reasons first, and then elaborate on my experience with the bottom half.

For the top half…

Be sure to listen to:

Let’s listen closely and in a genuine way
1. Build a closer relationship
2. Create trust
3. Understand
4. Learn
5. Show respect

These first five all have to do with building a relationship with the other person.

Reason one for listening, to build a closer relationship, is fairly obvious. To do so, we need to do the four following things also and ultimately, put the other person before ourselves in the conversation.

Creating trust happens when people know that they are heard, cared for, and interesting (among other things). But, if you do not listen in a way that shows you seek to understand, learn, and show respect to them, it will be much more difficult to have a conversation that is mutually beneficial, the speaker may feel that they cannot trust the listener with what they have to say.

Listening to understand is totally different in my eyes from seeking to learn. Seeking to learn, though it is relational, is mostly self-driven. Seeking to learn means that there is something that you want to know from the other person. In contrast, listening to understand shows that there is no other motive, the main purpose for listening is simply to become closer to the other person and see why they think what they do or why they feel as they do.

Finally, listening out of respect. There are many ways that respect is shown but, I would say that one is just by listening. This could be by providing undivided attention, such as when a boss summons you. This could be pausing to hear what your child has to say. This could be delaying your dinner date because your significant other is crying. There are many occasions during which someone listens out of respect. I value this reason for listening, though, I do not believe that it should ever be the main reason or the only reason for listening. Respect is great to show but I think that it should be paired with a desire to understand or a desire to build more trust.

These five reasons for listening all work together, at least they should in my eyes, but some are more important to individuals than others. A boss may care more about you listening out of respect than you listening to build a closer relationship, it is important that both parties take the time and energy needed to understand that about each other.

Overall, I say that these five generally contribute to a healthy relationship and conversation. These five reasons for listening, and many many more value the other person and show that you are not only interested in what they are saying, but, you are also interested in them.

And now, for the bottom half…

Avoid listening simply to:

What reasons to listen should we avoid?
6. Have a conversation
7. Attain an answer
8. Respond
9. Act interested
10. Get something

Another reason to listen to someone might be to have a conversation. Personally, though, small talk is the worst. I can’t stand it sometimes. If the only reason to converse, is to do just that, to have a conversation, then why do it? No, I am not really interested in how bad the traffic was this morning if you are only going to tell me for the sake of telling me. I’d rather hear about what you thought of it. If the traffic this morning was important to you, then cool, I will now listen to understand or to learn or to build a closer relationship, I won’t listen just for the sake of conversation.

People also listen to attain an answer and to respond. This is great, at first. But, what happens when we receive the answer we are looking for or we hear something that we can respond to. The average person listens for only Reports have shown that the average attention span for humans is now only 8 seconds. So, if we listen to attain an answer and then respond, what happens to the other person? Many things, but ultimately, they likely will feed invalidated. Conversation is two way, and it needs to be, by listening solely to attain an answer, we completely miss or disregard what the other person has to say. What if the answer to our question was merely the beginning of what they want to say? Then we likely miss that entire portion of the conversation or their story.

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

If we listen just to act interested or to get something, how does that make the other person feel? Not good. Listening just to get something from someone will never make the other person feel good or feel valued or feel validated, it just won’t happen. These are a few of the worst reasons to listen in my eyes. We should never listen to someone just for our own benefit. I doubt that we would ever want someone to listen to us solely to benefit themselves. Why would we?

These five reasons to listen seem shortsighted to me. Maybe someone will converse with you for a little while but these reasons surely do not build trust or cultivate relationships.

When someone asks if we heard what they said, it is most likely because we are listening for one of these 5 general reasons, that is my conclusion at least.

We all do things for different reasons. But, with our goals in mind, I think that we should always be cognizant of not only the way that we go about certain things but the way that we are received as well.

This week I really want to focus on my experience with listening and some of the things that I have learned and tried to put into practice.

There are so many things that I am learning day in and day out. So, I listen primarily to build a closer relationship as well as trust with someone, to understand them and learn from them, and to attain an answer.

Those are the five primary reasons that I listen. I often like to know certain things just because of the way that I think, so I listen to attain an answer. There are always hundreds of thousands of things on my mind so I am known to ask pointed questions randomly. Does that make me a good listener? Maybe but maybe not, as I’ll dive into deeper on Tuesday.

We all listen for different reasons, but why do we listen?

I care about others and I know what it feels like to have no one there for you so I often listen to build trust and closer relationships. However, I tend to feel that I do a much better job at this sort of thing than others do and I end up being trusted with a lot more information than I trust the other party with. But, that is something that I value. I always want anyone I talk to comfortable that they can trust me. But, there are levels to trust in my eyes, which is something for another day and another time.

Finally, I listen to understand and to learn. When I first met Karen Hilo, we had a short discussion and she said that she often asked people questions and looked at it as, “Oh, I’m just doing research.” I love that perspective and I connected with it. I often seek to understand others and learn from them. I know that everyone in the world can teach me something and they just need to be given an opportunity to do so.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” ―The Dalai Lama

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