Listen to understand not to respond

Posted on: June 21, 2018

Carrie Wynne

Carrie WynnePeople who listen to understand are rare and valuable.  They are life rafts we swim to when we’re drowning and for some of us we actually are.

Do your opinions matter?  To some people they might but as the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It’s pointless and can also be destructive to make up stories in our heads about what we think people mean without asking them. That happened to me at a conference recently.  Some guy went off on this tangent (for a very long time) talking about what he thought I wanted to know. It felt awkward. I should’ve asked ‘why are you telling me all this’ but I didn’t want to interrupt. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

How often do we really listen to people?  A lot of our relationships remain shallow because people don’t feel heard and understood.  We listen to respond rather than to be understood. We interrupt them. We take things out of context.  We hurt people. People stop talking because nobody understands them, and nobody understands because nobody listens.  We’re busy telling our stories instead of listening to their stories. We form opinions and make assumptions without asking follow- up questions. We hear what we want to hear.

For so many of us we long for deeper connections but can’t find anyone willing to listen.  Many of us live in self-preservation mode or already bombarded with the needs of the people around us. “I can’t handle your issues AND mine so you’re on your own.”  We fear a flood of OPI’s (other people’s issues) will drown us. Good listeners are life savers – They don’t fix our problems but care enough to listen.

Understanding someone doesn’t necessarily require agreement.  Our failing democracy is a sign of what happens when people won’t listen to understand.  Nothing gets done and arguments stay stuck and inflammation prevents any flow of working together or problem solving.   I’m right you’re wrong that’s it.

A salesperson asks questions to understand the needs of their clients before showing them a car or a house.   We should be doing the same thing with people that come to us. If you want to support someone lend them an ear. You have two of them.  

Am I the Only One?