Listening is a lost art. Studies show that you have seven seconds to get your point across before the other person begins preparing their own response or defense. I will confess that I struggle with the art of listening, but I’m aware of it, and making a conscious effort to do better.
When I was working in human resources I made a small note card and propped it up on my desk so it stood facing me. The note card read:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~Stephen Covey
I had just finished reading Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Seeking first to understand, through attentive listening, was habit number five and I desperately wanted to get better at it. There have been many books written on the art of listening. In this short post, I simply want to share my experience – what I’ve learned and continue to learn.
The desire to be heard and understood is a basic human need. We actually seek out people who will listen to our story. I’m sure you know someone in your life who leans in, makes eye contact, smiles gently and asks, “How are you?” And then listens. They don’t interrupt and they don’t judge. When you pause, they ask you more questions – they’re sincerely interested and actively listening.
Here’s the kicker to the art of listening, in my humble opinion, – authenticity. You really have to want to listen; be willing to take the time and care about what the person has to say. In seeking first to understand, as Covey explained, you have to stay open and listen without judgment. It doesn’t mean you will agree with everything you hear, but to understand you must be willing to ask questions – to stay engaged. And, quite honestly, you have to let go of the need to be understood. In my experience, seeking to understand has to be the main goal. The minute you focus on yourself and needing to be understood, your mind is distracted with your own stories and reactions and your ability to listen is compromised.
I’m still practicing the art of listening. It requires awareness – a theme you may have noticed throughout these posts. Everything you do in life is enhanced if you can do it from a state of awareness, in the present moment – right here, right now.
I encourage you to practice the art of listening because I believe it is true what they say, “Listening is an act of love”.