Books and courses abound on “active” listening and other so-called effective listening techniques. But I ask you: have any of those ideas really made a difference? While they have probably helped a little, as a “technique,” they have their limitations. So let’s examine listening in a new way – a way that will make an enormous and permanent impact on your life.
Typically we speak to people as if they were a blank canvas upon which we can write words that they will receive and understand exactly as we intend. And, when they don’t “get” our message exactly as we intend, we get irritated and think they must not be listening, don’t understand, are playing games, or are being hostile. The list goes on and on.
But given everything we’ve said so far, are we really speaking to a blank canvas? Of course not. The other person is living in his or her conversation. Before you even open your mouth, he is already listening, to himself. Why? Because people are always listening to their own internal conversation.
In workshops and speeches, I often ask the audience, “Has anyone ever asked you: Are you listening to me?” A laugh of recognition usually follows, because we’ve all probably been asked that same question. I then ask, “What’s the only honest answer you can give someone if she asks that?” The answer of course is, “No, I’m not listening to you; I’m listening to me listening to you!”
So the question is not whether we are listening when someone speaks to us; rather, it’s a question of how we are listening. We always have a conversation going on within us as we listen to another, and that conversation filters and determines everything we hear. As a result of many years of looking at this subject and participating in enumerable programs, I have come to realize that people listen in one or more of a number of ways