If there’s a gateway to the resolution of problems or issues, it’s good listening skills. Something we males are notoriously short of. There’s no doubt that listening requires a non-competitive state of mind. Something also not easily found in your average male.
Let’s get the quasi-generalisations out of the way. They’ll cause some chauvinist protestation, but that’s just too bad. Females are usually emotionally better developed than males of the same age. They’re more in tune with their own emotions and those of others, than are males. They’re more patient. They’re better at managing detail and follow through. They genuinely do multi-task. Even better so when they’ve reared children. If a guy’s reading the newspaper, it’s a case of ‘Can’t you see I’m reading, darn it!’ when someone breaks his already poor concentration. Women usually have higher pain thresholds than men. They cope better with illness. (Been around a male with a simple dose of ’flu lately?) They survive better in cold, last longer when starved and for obvious biological reasons, they even float the right way up in water! J
What has been scientifically demonstrated is that the corpus callosum – the neural fibre network connecting the two brain hemispheres, shows differences in females. Inside of the corpus callosum is a little channel known as the isthmus. In females, the isthmus is better developed (i.e. it's a heavier gauge nerve fibre cable) than in males. It’s believed to have developed this way as a result of better inter-hemispheric data traffic between the female linguistic and emotional centres. Thus appearing to support the thesis that women are more in touch with their emotions and better able to understand, express and articulate them.
A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something. Frank Capra, Italian-American film director
You might legitimately be asking what all this has to do with listening. In a nutshell, being emotionally self-aware, allows us, when it’s appropriate, to step back in a conversation. To take a helicopter view of the interaction and be prepared to genuinely listen. In a mature individual, this will be non-judgemental listening. It will seek merely to receive information – not to categorise it or evaluate its merits. The intuition of a really good listener will develop over time, to the point where it delivers a useful impression or conclusion through non-competitive listening. Well-developed intuition will mean that your gut feeling is usually spot on.
We males tend to listen competitively. Which means some of our neurological band-width, data line capacity and processing power, is hijacked by our ‘internal dialogue.’ Indicating that you or I are usually chatting away furiously in our heads at the exact same time we’re meant to be listening. Example: ‘Oh come on, this can’t be possible!’ or ‘Here we go again – same old hardy annual.’ Or, ‘Hang on a minute, that’s not what she said last week.’ It doesn’t matter how trivial the internal discussion. The fact that it’s taking place at conscious brain level, means that we can’t truly be focussed on what the other person is saying. We’re too ready to argue or give our bigger and better version of the story. Too keen to inflict our perspective or grab the attention of the group.
Put guys together, give them a few alcoholic drinks and try (because it’ll take serious effort) to listen to what is said. Stereotypically, it’ll descend into a one-upmanship contest – with liberal blasts of testosterone being ventilated. What you’ll find when you quiet the internal discussion, is that things become easier and quicker to understand. Previously unheard cues, clues, codes and messages become more apparent. The real meaning of the communication, complaint, comment or question, is understood. Making for simpler, more effective communication which will produce a positive and constructive outcome.
Don’t just listen to what I’m saying. Listen to what I’m meaning. David Ogilvy, western world advertising doyen
Active vs. passive listening
Hearing and listening are two very different
things. We all hear radios making sound and people talking. Listening, however,
requires a much higher level of concentration. It’s an active, but relaxed
focus of attention on:
Hearing and listening are two very different things. We all hear radios making sound and people talking. Listening, however, requires a much higher level of concentration. It’s an active, but relaxed focus of attention on:
· what the person is saying.
· what they might be trying to say as opposed to what we're hearing.
· what they're actually meaning.
· what (if we're really skilled listeners) their faces and bodies are saying.
Good listening requires that we stop
· second guessing, i.e. pre‑emptively assuming we know where they're headed.
· our own internal dialogue (or mental chit‑chat to ourselves) about what they're saying or how we'll answer or argue back or give advice. If you really shut up and listen, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that your brain can still deliver intelligent observations and responses at extremely short notice.
· being concerned with what they're thinking about us.
· feeling ill at ease, if we are, because it will be picked up and the interpersonal tension will destroy any empathy being developed.
0 Great Spirit, grant that I may not judge another person until I have walked in their moccasins for two moons. Native American proverb
The lights are on, but nobody's home
The lights are on, but nobody's home
When your other half is sitting with his or her head tilted upward (chin well above the horizontal), looking at you as you're speaking and saying 'uh‑huh, uh‑huh', you're in trouble. They're not listening to you. You're broadcasting on one radio frequency and they're listening on another (usually internal) one.
When we’re genuinely listening, we tilt our heads.
We literally ‘give an ear'. It's an unconscious gesture, and quite a reliable
one. Add a nod and we're not only listening, we're interested or agreeing. Add
some facial animation (mobility) and we’re sending powerful and congruent non‑verbal
signals saying, I'm really listening!' All without speaking a word.
When we’re genuinely listening, we tilt our heads. We literally ‘give an ear'. It's an unconscious gesture, and quite a reliable one. Add a nod and we're not only listening, we're interested or agreeing. Add some facial animation (mobility) and we’re sending powerful and congruent non‑verbal signals saying, I'm really listening!' All without speaking a word.
Make sure you listen, not just with your ears, but with your eyes, face and body as well. Never forget David Ogilvy's reminder of the unspoken request on every speaker's agenda: 'Don't just listen to what I'm saying ‑ listen to what I'm meaning.'
Dr. Carl Rogers, father of Person-Centred psychotherapy refined the technique known as 'reflective listening'. This doesn't mean you should say 'I understand how you feel.' That can be quite offensive, as experiences are totally subjective. You might have been through a pretty similar event, but the chances that you or I know exactly how the other person really feels about his or her processing of that event, are minimal.
The opposite of
talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz, New York
columnist and humourist
The opposite of talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz, New York columnist and humourist
Reflective listening doesn't question. There are no 'Don't you think that?' leaders. You will use it
· if someone's talking but you really don't know what advice to give
· or would rather not give advice
· or are not being invited to, subtly or otherwise, give advice.
· if someone's talking about a problem and clearly needs simply to 'unload'.
· if you want to let someone 'have their say', vent their anger, or explain their role in a conflict, a discussion, a meeting.
Reflective listening means
· listening attentively. Giving sincere and congruent (therefore authentic) non‑verbal (nods) or verbal ('uh-huh') cues that indicate you’re listening and it’s OK for them to go on.'
· getting into a state of empathy with the other person. Sitting in subtly similar (mirroring) physiology or posture will give you a better 'feel' for what they're expressing.
· mentally getting into the other person's moccasins and walking with them.
· not judging them or their actions. As Carl Rogers said, they're entitled to unconditional, positive regard. If you have difficulty giving them that, go read the story in the Christian Bible about Jesus at the well, with a prostitute and some rather self-righteous people. They wanted Jesus to judge her so they could stone her according to ancient Judaic law. He said simply: 'Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone...'
· saying, from time to time, sensitively and appropriately, gently and courteously, 'I'm hearing you say you got shocking service...' or 'You're feeling angry about the event...' or 'I understand that you're very hurt about your treatment by him...' It's a quietly affirming, 'getting‑in‑tune‑with' type of response. It says, “I'm listening. You're not devalued. I care.”
The final point I'd make in good listening,
particularly when it comes to people problems is: Be empathic, but not
sympathetic. As someone once said, 'when we're sym‑pathetic, we quickly become pa‑thetic' and then we're of no use to
The final point I'd make in good listening, particularly when it comes to people problems is: Be empathic, but not sympathetic. As someone once said, 'when we're sym‑pathetic, we quickly become pa‑thetic' and then we're of no use to anyone.