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Listening to understand v listening to respond

Listening to respond v listening to understandOur blog in March focused on listening skills. This blog focuses on the attitude needed to listen effectively. In essence, the difference between listening to understand v listening to respond.

Take a look at the video clip below which was live on television just a week ago. Make your judgement – are these people listening to understand or listening to respond? Or maybe are they listening to each other at all?


Now pause yourself for a moment and listen to yourself very carefully. What do you hear? My guess is that there is a voice in your head making sense of what you’re experiencing. You’re already having an internal conversation with yourself.

Having this voice is helpful. It helps us make judgements that keep us safe. However this voice can also get in the way. Particularly when listening to others. Often words are said that trigger a response. Our response is likely to be formed from our views and experiences. We can be tempted to respond very quickly and with the best intention. Unfortunately this quick response can often shut out what the other person is wanting to tell us. If we hold back and even ‘park’ our response we may understand the points of view being shared.   

My tip is to use your pause button. Resist those temptations to jump in with your immediate solution. Not easy when we’re time pressured and expected to come up with immediate solutions.

But pausing is worthwhile. Whether dealing with an employee, a team member, your boss or a customer make a real effort to listen to understand what is being said.  Set aside any conscious or unconscious bias you may have against the person or the topic being discussed. Instead work hard to understand what is being said and how it is being said. Use empathy to respect and see the other person’s perspective. You don’t have to agree. You only have to understand.

Once you have listened to understand you can then be in a better position to respond. Your point of view may have altered. Maybe your point of view may not have changed. However your relationship with the other person may be stronger as a result. These are the benefits that listening to understand v listening to respond will bring.

Paul Beesley, Beyond Theory

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