Published: September, 2021
Human beings are social by nature and most of us have a desire to connect with others and to develop meaningful relationships. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is to really listen to others. If we listen carefully, with empathy and patience, demonstrate understanding and a lack of judgement then ultimately, we will build deeper relationships.
Steven Covey, in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ explains five levels of listening. Covey believes that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.
Level 1 and 2
The first level is ignoring, where we are not listening to the individual at all. The second is pretending, where we may say things like “OK” or perhaps nod our head at certain points in the conversation. In both, we’re distracted and not paying attention to the individual trying to connect with us.
The third is selective listening, where we’re taking part but aren’t fully focused on the individual and discussion; we’re focusing on something else, and so we miss parts of the conversation. For example, we may be reading our emails when the individual is talking or looking at our phone!
The fourth is attentive listening, where we’re listening carefully to what is being said but we’re also busy thinking about our response. With both selective and attentive listening, we’re considering our own perspectives, perception and experiences, rather than trying to understand the other person’s.
The fifth and most impactful level, is empathic listening. We listen so that we can truly understand how someone feels from their point of view, without judgement and assumptions. We listen carefully, with empathy and patience and we try to understand their perspective, perception and experience, their frame of reference and not our own. Demonstrating empathy doesn’t mean that we have to agree, rather we accept them as they are. We acknowledge their emotions and feelings as exactly that – they are theirs, and we respond with the recognition and respect of one another’s emotional needs.
Why should you practise empathic listening?
Empathic listening isn’t easy, it takes time and patience, but it is incredibly rewarding as it builds mutual understanding and trust and can massively improve our mental wellbeing. Think about how you’ve felt when someone was distracted or interrupted you when you were trying to talk. Compare that to when someone took the time to focus solely on what you were saying, with an open mind and without interruption or judgement. I suspect you felt far more valued and happier. Now consider how it would make you feel if someone walked (physically or virtually) away from an interaction with you where you were distracted or interrupted them, where you responded with your own perspective, experiences and judgements without trying to understand theirs. I suspect that would not make you feel quite as content.
Take some time to practice. When someone wants to connect with you, put all other distractions to one side, focus solely on them and truly listen. Try to do so without judgement and instead with understanding and empathy; and try to consider their perspective. Take some time afterwards to reflect on how this made you feel and see how it can help you build stronger connections, both personally and professionally. Something we could all benefit from in these challenging times!
I hope you’ve found this interesting and thought provoking, if you would like to find out more you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07990 916350.