Given that we have had an entire lifetime to develop our listening skills, why is it that many of us are such poor listeners? One thing is very clear: while we have had formal training on how to read, write and communicate, most of us have had no formal training on how to listen.
Why is listening so hard?
Effective listening involves setting aside our own needs to be heard and acknowledged. When we don’t do that, we end up filtering a speaker’s message based on our own view of the world and miss the underlying intent.
Here’s an example:
Maria is the mother of 9th grader, Andre. Since the school year started, Andre has complained that his teacher never calls on him when he raises his hand, picks on him when he doesn’t have the answer, gives him lower marks than everyone else, and criticizes his work in front of the other students.
The day after after Andre came home with a C-minus on his midterm, Maria showed up at his school and vented her anger at his teacher. She spent twenty minutes reciting a long list of abuses and behaviors, and denying the teacher any chance to respond. When Maria was done she asked the teacher for her side. The teacher looked Maria in the eye and said, “I don’t think anything will say will make a difference to you,” and walked out. Maria sat there flabbergasted and offended.
Who was right to be upset, the teacher or Maria? When we come to the table with the intent of telling only our own story it makes true conversation impossible and sets us up for confrontation.
What to do?
Make it safe for others to listen. Build common ground so others will want to hear what you have to say. Then give them space to talk and listen to them.