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You Probably Suck at Listening

Is anyone really reading all the status updates on Facebook?

black-man-yelling-into-phoneHow often do we really listen to people? How often do we put ourselves aside for a moment and truly try to unveil words and read deeply into what another person is saying? It’s not easy to do! Listening is a really important skill, and yet there is very little focus on the concept. In schools we are taught communications techniques. In universities we can be a communications major. In life we are pushed to constantly express ourselves. The whole basis of social media is to continually communicate! But when does someone ever sit us down and tell us how to be better listeners. Not to often.

How we communicate

Public-Speaker1Before we learn how to listen, we must understand the core concepts of communications. The Greeks got this right a long time ago. They summed up communication into three parts ethos, logos, and pathos. I’m sure you have heard these three words in succession before. Here is what they mean:

  • Ethos: Communication based on credibility or character
  • Logos: Communication based on an appeal emotion
  • Pathos: Communication based on logic

It is important to understand this because when someone is communicating they are communicating on all three layers. We do this subconsciously, but it’s entirely true. Go over any of the arguments you have had in the past and you will see how we touch on each style over and over.

The ideal listener

Audience-Listening-to-Public-Speaker-The ideal listener will listen empathically. We become the ideal listener when we truly care for what the other has to say and we truly want to feel what the person is feeling. We will try to understand all layers of communication for each statement, thought, or argument. As we reviewed earlier, the ideal listener listens for ethos, pathos, and logos. In other words, we listen to hear where the other person is coming from (ethos). Then we listen to the emotions behind their words (pathos). Are they really excited, or are they frustrated or fearful. Finally we listen to what they are saying (logos). All this to learn where they are coming from and what is it that they are trying to get at. All this to prove that you care and that you will not pass judgment and you will try really hard to understand.

Typical responses

78788-425x282-Group_ConversationTypically, a listener uses one of four ways to respond during a conversation.  We either evaluate, probe, give advice, or interpret.

  • “That totally reminds me of a story!”
  • “Well really you shouldn’t be doing that”
  • “I can’t believe you do that! That’s not right.”
  • “I do that too! Usually it’s because I am not happy with the situation..”

When we evaluate we are really passing judgment. It’s the easiest way for the person to clam up and stop feeling comfortable. Giving advice is great when it’s asked for, but when it’s not, there could be misunderstandings here. Interpreting involves superimposing our own motives into the conversation. The focus of the conversation shifts to the listener at this point, ignoring the motives of the other person. Finally, there is probing. It’s usually fine to probe, but if it’s a stranger then they will feel like they are being interviewed rather than being listened to. Usually the prober will end up passing judgment, giving advice or interpreting the situation in the end.

How we should respond

TETRRF-00013265-001Silence is a great way to respond. Simply just letting the person add to what they want to say. Try it! You would be surprised. Generally someone will keep going.

Secondly we can probe, but it must be gentle. We must do it to better understand the person, instead of driving the conversation to our desired topic. Lawyers are good at this and a common objection in the courtroom is leading the witness.

The last thing is the innocuous statement. Really it’s just repeating a key concept or emotional exclamation. Some examples are “Wow, that’s amazing!”, “I can’t believe that!”, or “That shit cray!”

What’s amazing is when we usually want to give advice, but hold off just long enough, we see that either the person comes up with the advice themselves or they ask us for advice.

The End Goal

couple pictureIn the end the goal is to strengthen the bonds of our relationships. There is no better way to do this then to do whatever it takes to learn about or understand the other person. To learn about what makes them excited, what their fears are, or what makes them tick.

The only way this can be done is to build trust. The more patient we are with the people we love, the less judgmental or pushy, the more trust we will build.

Listening is not passive. We must practice to become better listeners especially for the people we love and care about.

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