You never listen. Yes I do. No you don’t.

I trained as a marriage guidance counsellor many, many years ago and realised that one of the biggest challenges in relationships; whether they are personal or work relationships, is that as humans we are ALL really poor listeners.

When I worked with couples I would see them separately for quite some time. My first question to the original person who called me would always be ‘What seems to be the biggest challenge in your relationship?’ to which they would invariably reply ‘my partner just never listens to me’. Sound familiar?

If at some stage the couple decide to separate you can pretty much guarantee that the person who is ‘left’ will be utterly bewildered; they won’t have a single, solitary clue why the relationship has broken down. And if you then asked the ‘leaver’ if they had told the person why they were leaving they would say ‘I told him and I told him and I told him’ or her whichever the case may be. So how is this even remotely possible? How can two people who live or work together get into such a mess?

It’s because there are two parts to listening; there is listening and there is hearing. Two completely different skills.

If one person says to the other ‘You never …. (fill in the blanks); the reply will invariably be ‘Yes I do’ or worse, the other party will retaliate with their own ‘Well YOU never … (fill in the blanks) and then the argument will ensue.

So I thought I would share with you an amazing process of learning how to ‘hear’ what someone is saying, straight from the marriage guidance handbook.

When person A says to person B – ‘I’m really upset that you never seem to …. rather than rushing to disagree and starting the argument, try SOUNDING BACK WHAT YOU’VE JUST HEARD:

‘So what you are upset about is ….’.

Which is where it gets tricky. If person A says ‘NO that isn’t what I just said’ then keep checking till you get a ‘YES that is exactly what I’m upset about’.

And here is the interesting thing, YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE WITH THE PERSON – you just have to understand their pain. It’s even OK to say ‘Now I understand what you are saying, I will do whatever I can to help; but I have to have you understand that there will be some things I CAN do and some things I won’t be able to do. Which is where workable compromises come into play.

Being willing to listen and hear is also the single greatest lesson for leaders. If leaders  choose not to listen to their people, then sooner or later the good people will start leaving and the people who just want a ‘job’ will stay. Which is sad. But the saddest thing of all is that leaders learn and grow by listening to their people; they learn what they are doing well as leaders but also where they are falling down. A team reflects it’s leader. If a team isn’t working – look at the leader. It doesn’t mean they are bad people, it just means they are not listening and they are certainly not hearing.

‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ – George Bernard Shaw

Happy hearing.

Ann Andrews CSP

Author: Lessons in Leadership: 50 ways to avoid falling into the ‘Trump’ trap

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