“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – Stephen R. Covey
Covey describes many of us subconsciously seek to be understood, rather than seeking to understand a person and situation first. We get so caught up in telling our story, opinion or preparing a reply when conversing with people. In the event we do want to help someone, our answers are usually based on our own experiences and philosophies. We attempt to prescribe personal interpretations upon someone else, in a one-size-fits-all solution, often overlooking the individual’s own perspective.
Don’t worry this happens often and often we aren’t even aware of it.
I will be the first to put my hand up and admit I get caught up in this behavior. Being a good listener is something I pride myself on. A quote that changed my life when I was younger was by Dale Carnegie – “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”. Since then, I have lived by this philosophy and believe it has helped me build the extensive network I am grateful to have today.
However, there is listening and then there is empathetic listening. At times, when listening to others, I have found I try to lend advice or help; often basing judgments only on what I know or have experienced. Sharing no attempt to fully grasp the other persons situation and perspective. Often replying, “Oh I know how you feel, this is what happened to me…” neglecting the entirety of their situation, failing to offer true empathy. Sometimes we think we know more than we do, but understating the workings of the universe is infinite.
Empathetic listening is the ability to listen with the intention to understand. Not to just agree with someone (sympathy), but to see the world as they see it, to understand them at an emotional and intellectual level. To listen empathetically is to connect with another being on a meaningful metaphysical level, using your senses and heart to grasp their feeling. Ultimately, this leads to your own vulnerability and this is where your empathy is at its highest.
You start feeling what they feel and by rephrasing their situation back to them in your own words, this gives a sense of appreciation and sincerity that you are genuine in your intention to help. This technique also provides a different perspective to the receiver of your empathy, which will also aid them in solving the situation. Trust starts to develop in the relationship and the ability to open up eases. Barriers break down, empowering the other person to find a solution themselves at their own pace and grow.
People just want to be understood and appreciated.
Give this gift to others as your New Year’s resolution.