How we listen affects what we hear. This tool will allow you to tailor how you listen and maximize your ability to hear those you communicate with. As most conflicts between individuals have some aspect of miscommunication, this tool will help reduce conflict by improving the accuracy of communication.
A very common form of listening involves seeking specific information. The most basic form is asking someone a question and then waiting for them to answer. Other examples include listening for:
These are all examples of listening with an agenda, or listening for. This way of listening focuses attention on an essential piece of information, such as medical diagnosis, but it does so at the cost of missing much of the additional information being presented. Individuals often return from doctor’s visits with a diagnosis but having ‘forgotten’ everything else that was said during the visit. They were listening for the diagnosis rather than listening to the doctor and hence most of what the doctor said was lost.
Personal relationships are just as profoundly affected by how we listen. Children often listen for compliments or validation from their parents and have difficulty hearing anything else. Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tend to be listening for rejection or abandonment. In this way they increase their chances of finding it. They also often don’t hear much of the rest of what is being said to them. Similarly, family members of individuals with BPD, after having several experiences with being provoked into conflict, come to expect this from BPD suffers and listen for it. This makes them more likely to hear this and less likely to hear anything else that they are being told.
Listening to another person involves listening without an agenda. Becoming better at listening to others will take practice and discipline, but it is well worth the effort. Optimal listening to others requires actively focusing your attention while others are speaking to you. You must construct for yourself an understanding of what is communicated to you that allows you to hear not only what you do expect, but also what you might not expect. The following exercises will help you to effectively listen to what others are trying to tell you. They should be practiced whenever possible and they will eventually become habitual.
Listening to other people and encouraging them to listen to you will improve communication and decrease conflict. This technique is particularly effective when used with other tools in the Mysideofthecouch.com toolbox.