Hillary and I were sitting in a café the other day when she spotted this quote on a TV screen: “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” I thought that was quite profound. It’s actually a quote from business management guru, Stephen Covey. It kind of goes with that old saying that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth, and that is the proportion in which we should use them. Books on how to be a better manager abound, almost all of them with calls for us to listen better, to develop listening skills, to be reactive listeners, and to listen first before speaking, and so on. But have we learnt the lesson.
If we were to stop for a moment and reflect on our own interactions with others I’m sure we’d see Stephen Covey’s statement to be true in our own lives. Often we have conversations where we’re just waiting for the gaps, or the breaks, or when we think the speaker has finished (or said enough) so that we can inject our piece of “communication”. Often we break the sequence of discussion, or inject content of little value, or just say the same thing again. We listen to respond. We’re more interested in building our own ideas, not necessarily helpfully building on the ideas of others. When we do that our behaviour is less supportive and more directive, even divisive. We miss messages, and opportunities. We just fail to listen. Instead we make it all about our own agenda, what we want, and all the time failing to see what impact our words are having on those around us.
Here’s another cautionary quote to end on: “We’ve been blessed with a very precious gift, my friends: the gift of talking. The gift of language. The gift of being able to express our feelings, emotions, ideas or plans into something called words. But, alas, as with every gift, overusing it may lead to unexpected results.” (Author unknown)