“Because we listen autobiographically, we tend to respond in one of four ways. We EVALUATE—we either agree or disagree; we PROBE—we ask questions from our own frame of reference; we ADVISE—we give counsel based on our own experience; or we INTERPRET—we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behavior, based on our own motives and behavior.
These responses come naturally to us. We are deeply scripted in them; we live around models of them all the time. But how do they affect our ability to really understand?
If I’m trying to communicate with my son, can he feel free to open himself up to me when I evaluate everything he says before her really explains it? Am I giving him psychological air?
And how does he feel when I probe? Probing is playing twenty questions. It’s autobiographical, it controls, and it invades. It’s also logical, and the language of logic is different from the language of sentiment and emotion. You can play twenty questions all day and not find out what’s important to someone. Constant probing is one of the main reasons parents do not get close to their children.
You will never be able to truly step inside another person, to see the world as he sees it, until you develop the pure desire, the strength of personal character, and the positive Emotion Bank Account as sell as the empathic listen skills to do it.
The skills, the tip of the iceberg of empathic listening, involve four developmental stages.
The first and least effective is to mimic content. This is the skill taught in ‘active’ or ‘reflective’ listening. Without the character and relationship base, it is often insulting to people and causes them to close up. It is however, a first stage skill because it at least causes you to listen to what’s being said.
Mimicking content is easy. You just listen to the words that come out of someone’s mouth and you repeat them. You’re hardly even using your brain at all.
The second stage of empathic listening is to rephrase the content. It’s a little more effective, but it’s still limited to the verbal communication.
‘Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds!’ ‘You don’t want to go to school anymore?’ This time you’ve put his meaning into your own words. Now you’re thinking about what he said, mostly with the left side, the reasoning, logical side of the brain.
The third stage brings your right brain into operation. You reflect feeling. ‘Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds!’ ‘You’re feeling really frustrated.’
Now you’re not paying as much attention to what he’s saying as you are to the way he feels about what he’s saying. The fourth stage includes both the second and the third. You rephrase the content and reflect the feeling.
‘Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds!’ ‘You’re really frustrated about school.’ Frustration is the feeling; school is the content.”
I’ll reserve comment until the conclusion of this topic next time.
Next Habit 5
Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
Four Autobiographical Responses (Conclusion)