Listen up!

I attended a short presentation on listening the other day. It was an interesting experience.

In the first segment, the presenter demonstrated a listening technique. He listened to a guy talk for about 3 minutes, and then mirrored back what he’d said. He didn’t use the exact words, but he pretty much covered every idea the other person said. Then he thanked the other guy for the privilege of listening to him.

It seemed sort of artificial, but when he told us to pair up and practice the technique, I was willing to give it a try.

After the practice, he asked how it was for people. I commented that concentrating on remembering all the main points made it harder for me to listen.

You need to practice listening,” he said. (This is called the Evaluative Listening technique, I believe, where the listener makes a generalized evaluation of the speakers capabilities based on one comment.).

Other people commented on their experiences, and several people echoed what I’d said. So I asked, “When you demonstrated, you listened for quite a while before you mirrored what he said. Do you have a guide…”

He cut me off. “The timing is listed on your sheet. If you’ll just look at it, you’ll see that it said to take 4 minutes for the listening step, and then spend two minutes discussing the exercise in your pair.”

At this point, I did not feel listened to.

“That wasn’t my question,” I said. “Let me try again. It feels more natural to me to ask questions to draw out the story and paraphrase in briefer segments. Do you have a guideline on how often to mirror?”

“Does it really matter if it feels genuine to you, if the other person believes it was genuine?” he asked.

Hmmm. Genuine imitation genuineness.

I didn’t learn anything really new about listening at this session, but I was reminded of some important things:

It’s easier for me to listen when I engage with the other person, and ask questions to draw out his/her story and learn more.

When I’m concentrating on remembering so I can “mirror” I’m not connecting with the person.

Listening with curiosity leads me to be more open to new perspectives.

I can impose my perspective (Wow, you got laid off? You must feel terrible about that! Are you worried about finding a new job?). Or not (Oh, you got laid off? How do you feel about that?)

When I (genuinely) listen to someone, I contribute to a positive relationship. (And when I don’t I can erode the relationship.) It’s a small effort that has a big return.

People who feel listened to are more likely to have a positive experience of a situation. And they’re more likely to contribute in a positive way.

Most schools spend a lot of time teaching us about written and verbal expression, but don’t teach us about listening. It’s a skill worth cultivating.