Lefevers: Learning to listen a worthwhile pursuit

January 14, 2013

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

 — Stephen R. Covey

Read that quote again and ask yourself which of those two things you do most often.

Do you listen with the intent to understand or with the intent to reply? What is the difference and why does it matter?

People who listen with the intent to reply tend to finish sentences for the person talking and abruptly talk over others. They often look at the ceiling, wall or floor while engaged in conversation as they think about how they will respond to the first few words the other has said. These people often miss the core of what is being said and later place blame on their friends and family for “not telling them everything” when in reality, they were not listening.

Those who listen with the intent to understand simply wait. They make eye contact, absorb the context of the conversation and think for a while before they respond. I enjoy being around people like this because they make me feel special. They make me want to be a better listener.

However, those who listen with the intent to reply drive me even further to sharpen my listening skills because they show me exactly who I do not want to become.

There are eight signs of poor listening skills:

• I tune out when something bores me.

• I often begin formulating a response in my head as the other person talks.

• I start listening with a negative attitude.

• My mind wanders to unrelated material when a speaker is talking.

• I judge the information before I truly understand what the speaker means.

• I often interrupt the speaker so that I can say what I want to say.

• I answer questions that are asked of other people.

• I eliminate some information from the message to simplify what I am hearing.

In order to expand the depth of our listening skills, we must first understand the process of listening. This process involves four steps: receiving, focusing, understanding and reacting.

If you hear someone scream, you have received sound. When you turn down the radio in order to hear the significance of the scream, you have focused on the sound. This is the beginning of the listening process. You have made a voluntarily effort to do more than just hear the scream.

If you can identify that the sound is coming from your child, you understand the significance (or lack thereof). When you jump up and run to see why the child is screaming, you have reacted to the sound.

This entire process can take place in a few short seconds. We are wired to listen, yet we sometimes become lackadaisical about utilizing this important skill.

Do you know that you listen at a much faster pace than people talk?

Most people speak at a rate of 90 to 200 words per minute, but you listen at a rate of 400 to 600 words per minute and think at a rate of 500 to 1,000 words per minute. The difference in the speed of speech, listening and thought can be an obstacle simply because your mind can begin to wander.

I have experienced far greater depth of knowledge, compassion and wisdom by forcing myself to become a good listener, but I first had to endure the heartache of being informed that I was not.

A dear friend sat down with me one day and said, “You’re a really neat person. I think you would be much neater if you really knew me.”

What he really said was what John Wayne once quoted: “You’re short on ears and long on mouth.”

I sat there with a look of bewilderment and embarrassment, I suppose. Did that person just insult me or did he teach me a valuable lesson? I chose to accept it as a valuable lesson and have never regretted doing so.

I can’t say that I have “arrived” at being the best listener, but I am conscious of my ability to be a person who listens to reply instead of understand. And as soon as I was able to acknowledge that, I was able to begin to hear and appreciate what was being said to me.

I have always been brave when it comes to being my own person. But that is a walk in the park compared to becoming a person who appreciates the experiences of others by understanding who they are and what they are saying.

Have a great week!