Active Listening: Everyone Wants to Feel "Heard"
When it comes to effective communication, paying attention, a passive skill, is only part of the equation. One strives not only to be “mindful” of what the other is saying or otherwise communicating, but also wants to let the other party know that genuine attention is being paid. For example, have you ever been in the midst of even an “ordinary” negotiation (we negotiate daily, more than we may realize), only to find everything you have said was countered with an opposing retort, an unrelated comment or perhaps simply a “yes, but…”? One can be left feeling exasperated or angry, invalidated and, above all, not or mis-understood. This is where active listening comes into play. Even in very contentious situations, taking a moment to reflect back to the other party what we heard him or her say enables us both to ensure we got it right (which, in emotional situations, we may not have) and demonstrate to the other s/he has been heard. If we’ve misunderstood, the other has the opportunity to correct us. It’s far less onerous to have a discussion with someone who genuinely attempts to understand us, and vice versa, even if we have differing ideas, goals, needs and/or interests. This is a first step towards the possibility of reaching collaborative agreement, or simply coming away with better understanding. Empathy also plays an important role in active listening. Whether it’s formal conflict resolution training or customer sales training, empathy – putting yourself in another’s shoes – can help defuse tension and de-escalate a situation. Think of how you feel when someone “gets” you. Yes, everyone wants to feel heard. And when we feel "heard," our own sense of "hearing" can be elevated. The more we can move past positions and acquire a better understanding of each other’s needs and interests, the greater the opportunity for more collaborative interactions and mutually satisfactory results.