A Problem Area
We engage in conversation with other people for a variety of reasons and each of those reasons involves the sharing of information. As we are social creatures, you’d think that we are excellent communicators but a lot of people really struggle with effective communication. In my experience, one of our biggest communication failings is that we are not very skilled at listening.
Have you ever been talking to someone and it became clear that they weren’t actually listening to you? Or maybe they finished your sentence for you and were incorrect about what you were going to say? As an introvert myself, it’s not uncommon for me to observe two people who are arguing but they’re actually both saying the same thing only using different words.
Practice, Practice, Practice
All of these situations are symptomatic of poor listening. But I also understand that I am not a perfect communicator and sometimes I’m not a great listener, either. We aren’t poor listeners on purpose; it happens outside of our awareness and all of us can be poor listeners from time to time. Because of that, here are three practices to consider before engaging in conversation with another person:
Orient yourself in such a way that you believe your thoughts on a particular matter are no more or less important than those of the person you are speaking with. If someone else is speaking, you don’t need to try to get back to the role of the speaker. Just listen and really try to hear what the other person is saying. Your message is important to convey, too; effective communication can only happen when both parties respect each other’s opportunity to speak.
Don’t Speak for Other People
It might seem like finishing someone else’s sentences or otherwise putting words in their mouth reflects that you empathize with and understand where they are coming from, but speaking for someone else probably will not be received that way. People deserve to be able to speak for themselves. If you do speak for the other person and you are wrong about what they were going to say, you will look bad and may damage your relationship with that person. If the person you are speaking with is having a hard time finding the right words to say, there’s probably a good reason for that. Don’t be afraid to just hold the space and allow some time for them to find their way to communicate their thought.
Paraphrase and Repeat
To make sure that you have correctly heard what someone has said to you, use active listening by using your own words to relay to them what you heard them say after they have spoken. This demonstrates that you were listening and have formed an understanding or interpretation of what they said. And if your interpretation is wrong, they will have the opportunity to clarify. The person you are speaking with will appreciated this effort to correctly hear what they have said and will leave the interaction feeling good about it.