I Heard You, But, What Do You Mean?
Michael P. Nichols includes the following example in his book, The Lost Art of Listening:
When his son told him he was dropping out of college, he did his best to hide his disappointment, still, he was upset and he needed someone to talk to. So, he called his brother, hoping he would understand. It wasn’t easy for him to talk about his feelings so he started off with small talk. After a few minutes, he told his brother that his son had dropped out of school and that he was very discouraged about it.
There was a pause.
His brother then went on to talk about something else. He was stunned… how could his brother be so unsympathetic? With a lot of effort, he confronted his brother and said, “Didn’t you hear what I said?”
His brother replied that he had never thought of his brother as someone who needed emotional support.
“Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.” ― Roy T. Bennett
How do we know what someone is looking for? Normally, people do not say things just so they can hear themselves speak. Normally, almost always, in fact, people want to be heard.
I connect with the example that Dr. Nichols featured. I am someone who may not appear to need emotional support. I also do not quite know how to ask for it when I do need it. But, that is not the best approach.
We should communicate in a way where our listener can respond in their way, of course.
We should also communicate in a way that expresses our desires to the listener.
Do we just need someone to sit and listen?
Do we need advice?
Do we need their experience?
Do we need sympathy?
It is important to express those things. But, it is more than that.
It is essential that the listener knows that.
If the listener doesn’t know what you want from them, how can they be sure that they show you they are listening. They could listen intently, intentionally, presently, honestly, and fully and STILL not respond in a way that shows the listener that they heard them.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” ― Roy T. Bennett
What is the implicit message of what people are saying?
Seek it out. Ask for it. Find it.
People are not going to always tell you explicitly. People do not want to have to do that.
Many times, people will want you to seek out their intentions, to seek out what it is that they want to discuss and also why they want to discuss or share whatever it is they want to.
Someone could say something to you and you could ask 100 questions but they could all be the wrong questions in the eyes of the speaker.
People all want different things. What do the people you care about want?
Why might a student share with a professor that their family is experiencing great conflict? Do they just want an extension on the paper that is due next week? Maybe. But, maybe not.
Why might a child tell their parent that they don’t think they are good at basketball? Do they just want to stop playing on the team? Maybe. But, maybe not.
Why might a coworker tell you that their spouse does not want to go out for dinner? Do they just want to make conversation? Maybe. But, maybe not.
We often do not know the real reasons that people share things.
Think about it for a second, when is the last time that you felt someone really truly fully understood the reason that you shared something with them?
If it does not happen frequently for you, why would you then expect to be able to understand what others are trying to say without asking?
If we listen just to act interested or to get something, how does that make the other person feel? Not good. 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.
We should treat people the way that they’d like to be treated, ask them what they’d like to hear from us if we don’t know, and always always always be ourselves, be true, and show them why we care.
If we don’t know, we should ask. If we do know, we should confirm. At the very least, even if the speaker just confirms you, you know that you had it right.
Comprehension is the most integral part of listening, if we are not able to understand and then absorb what the speaker is saying to us, why are they talking at all?
“Listening is defined as to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear.”