I have a close friend who only listens to reply and doesn’t listen to understand. We all know conversations take place between a speaker and a listener who (hopefully ????) take turns to both listen and to speak. We also know that being fully present in a conversation, as a listener, is paramount. In reading to learn more about the skills of listening, I came across the concept of non-defensive listening.
Habit 5 in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to seek first to understand and then be understood. In a similar vein, two of the four objectives of Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations are about provoking learning and interrogating reality. Why are these similar?
Both encourage us to listen carefully and actively and to really develop an unbiased and non-judgmental understanding of the other person’s perspective, no matter what the rationale for the conversation. Neither are we saying that, by default, we must agree with the other person but we should at least try to understand the other person’s point-of-view, before putting our own.
I found Naomi Arnold’s nine tips for Non-Defensive Listening: How to Listen to Understand informative.
- Don’t interrupt
- Be empathetic
- Watch your body language
- Don’t play word games
- Be aware of biases and perception filters
- Be self-aware and watch your emotions
- Listen to understand, rather than to respond
- Watch your expectations
- Practice (practice, practice, practice)
While the Gottman Institute’s article on How to Listen Without Getting Defensive is more about personal relationships, I think there is some value in reminding ourselves: Unfortunately, when the listener reacts to what the speaker is saying before the speaker gets the chance to fully explain themselves, both partners are left feeling misunderstood.
Once upon a time, one of my mentors said to me:
“When you hear something new, use the Three Heap method.
Heap 1 is for things you accept.
Heap 2 is for things you reject.
And Heap 3 is for things you don’t have enough info on, things you’re going to just hold for now.
Heap 3 should be your biggest heap. You can’t learn anything from Heap 1 since you’ve already swallowed it. And you can’t learn anything from Heap 2, since you’ve already spat it out. But Heap 3, you can still learn something from. So hold it.”
Shared from the Living the 7 Habits app:
Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It's not logical; it's psychological.
Stephen R. Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change