“ ‘Seek first to understand’ involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.
When another person speaks, we’re usually ‘listening’ at one of four levels. We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all. We may practice pretending. ‘Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.’ We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. We often do this when we’re listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child. Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said. But very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening.
When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm.
Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.
Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgment. And it is sometimes the more appropriate emotion and response. But people often feed on sympathy. It makes them dependent. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.
Empathic listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said. Communications experts estimate, in fact, the only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 percent is represented by our sounds, and 60 percent by our body language. In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and ore importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.
What I’ve noticed about my 17 year-old granddaughter is that our conversations take place with her “nose” in her iPhone, and she is selectively listening to what I say. She represents millions of people who are more focused on what appears on their cell phones, or the cell phone sounds it makes. As someone who grew up with face-to-face communication, this interruption (as I call it) is unnerving.
As the trend grows humans will be more concerned about things that don’t matter instead of things that do; family, neighbors, those in need, those who yearn for true companionship. Honesty and caring have been replaced with falsehoods, trickery, deception, along with other habits that are more disturbing.
Empathic listening discussion will continue next week (April 15, 2015).
Next Habit 5
Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
Empathic Listening (continued)