Listening versus Interpreting
I met with a new coaching client this Monday and saw again the appreciation, relief and enthusiasm someone experiences when they are listened to in appreciative and nonjudgmental ways. I see this because what we think of as listening is not listening, but rather interpreting.
When we listen to understand someone we are placing on the back burner our beliefs and expectations about what the person is telling us, and listening to understand the thoughts, feelings and beliefs being expressed.
When we interpret someone we are hearing the thoughts, feelings and beliefs expressed and running them through our personal filters about what we’ve heard. After we’ve interpreted what we’ve heard we then respond based not on what they said specifically, but on our interpretation of what they said.
When this happens all too often people feel judged, misunderstood and unappreciated.
One of the greatest skills I learned was how and when to listen to someone without interpreting them. I learned this from my good friend Sam Van Fleet who taught a course that powerfully changed the course of my personal and professional relationships. Here’s what I learned from Sam and in turn are my top three recommendations for listening rather than interpreting.
1. Listening is not about you. Many conversations should primarily be about the other person; their thoughts, experiences, hopes, beliefs and aspirations. When we listen to understand what’s important and WHY it’s important, the person feels valued and appreciated in ways that far too often does not happen at work or at home.
2. Listening is rooted in loving. Let me be clear about this second point. If we love someone, we place their best interests at the center of our thinking. I’m not talking about romantic love, but the kind of love that is referred to by Thomas Aquinas who said, “love is willing the good of the other as other.” When we think of times when we have listened to someone with our full attention, we have loved or cared about the person.
In the world of work loving a customer and or employee is an intellectual construct that keeps us in our heads. But, the moment we listen with our head as well as with our heart we see something magical happen. We win the heads and hearts of those we are trying to lead.
3. Listening requires practice. Any skill we want to develop requires awareness, new choices and patience. The first step in listening versus interpreting is being aware of when we are not listening to understand, but interpreting. The moment we catch ourselves doing so we need to make a different choice. The choice is to suspend our interpretive judgement and replace it with genuine curiosity. And then we rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
Hugh’s Words of Wisdom Wednesday Challenge:
This week notice how many people listen to you in order to understand you versus listen to you as a means of interpretation. How does this impact you? What is like for your customer when employees do the same with them? What’s it like when employees experience this from their leaders and managers? If you want your business to flourish start by learning how to listen.
Listening versus interpreting is a skill we can all learn. It is a skill that pays huge dividends not only at home, but in the world of work.
I hope you were listening.