How to Be a Good Listener and Use It to POWERFULLY Influence People [Please Use Responsibly]

Relationships
How to Be a Good Listener and Use It to POWERFULLY Influence People [Please Use Responsibly]
There are four basic types of communication: reading, writing, speaking and listening. We spend most of our waking hours engaged in communication in one form or another. We’re all aware of the importance of being able to communicate effectively in our lives. But consider this:

We’ve spent years learning how to read and write and years learning how to speak. But what about listening?
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We’ve spent years learning how to read and write and years learning how to speak. But what about listening?

What education or training have we had that enables us to really understand another human being from their own frame of reference, rather than from our own? Or to listen with the intent to understand, rather than with the intent to reply?

Instead, we listen by filtering everything through our own paradigms. We rush in to share our life story, to fix things up with advice or with a neat solution that worked for us but may not necessarily pertain to others.

“Oh, I know exactly how you feel!” we say after cutting them short, “I went through the same thing. Let me tell you about my experience…”

Understand First, Then Be Understood

The single most important principle in the field of interpersonal relations is this: ‘understand first, then be understood’. If you want to interact effectively with me or to influence me, you first need to understand me.

It’s the equivalent of a doctor trying to prescribe treatment without taking the time to really understand the problem first to make an accurate diagnosis. In the same way that you wouldn’t have confidence in his prescription, how can you expect me to take what you have to say seriously when you always cut me short?

If you look at any of the problems you currently face in your relationships, they can always be boiled down to a failure to effectively apply this natural law of interpersonal communication in some way.
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If you look at any of the problems you currently face in your relationships, they can always be boiled down to a failure to effectively apply this natural law of interpersonal communication in some way.

It’s so simple and obvious yet it is so commonly neglected. Typically, we want to be understood first before trying to fully understand others. You may tell me you understand but I can’t trust words. What you say may not quite pertain to me.

Understanding me first is also deeply therapeutic and healing for me because it gives me “psychological air.” (Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival - to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated).

When you seek to really understand me, you give me “psychological air”. And after that vital need is met, I now have enough air to be influenced by what you have to say.

Tips for Understanding First

‘Understand first, then be understood’ is not some communication skills technique or influence technique where you listen first but still with the motive just to be understood. The self is always coming through. If you try to use it as a technique I will sense duplicity or manipulation and I won’t feel safe enough to open up to you.

You have to understand first because you really want to understand. This comes from a deep appreciation of the unique situation and feelings people encounter with any problem. Unless you’re influenced by my uniqueness, I’m not going to be influenced by your advice.
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Unless you’re influenced by my uniqueness, I’m not going to be influenced by your advice.

If you want to be really effective in the habit of interpersonal communication, you have to integrate this correct principle into your actual character. You appreciate that you can’t achieve maximum win/win effectiveness without an accurate understanding of the unique situation from where each person is coming from.

As a result, you must always do everything you can to deeply understand me emotionally as well as intellectually.

Some Difficulties You May Experience

To understand me first and then be understood can be very hard. You will find it tempting to rush in to judge, agree or disagree, to dish out advice or to explain my motives and behaviour based on your own motives and behaviour.

Most people’s sticking point is that they try to understand me from their own frame of reference rather than from my own. You can only really understand how I feel if you are prepared to use my own frame of reference.
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Most people’s sticking point is that they try to understand me from their own frame of reference rather than from my own. You can only really understand how I feel if you are prepared to use my own frame of reference.

To understand me first and then be understood is also risky. It takes a great deal of security to go into a deep listening experience because you open yourself up to be influenced by me. You become vulnerable. It’s a paradox in a sense because in order to have influence you have to be influenced by me, which means you have to really understand me.

Although it’s risky and hard, to ‘understand first…’ from my own frame of reference is a principle manifest in many areas of life, but it has its greatest power in the area of interpersonal relations (both personal and professional).

Adhering to this principle may appear unfair at first, especially when you know I am not making any effort to understand you. This is why you have to lead by example and trust that I will soon follow.

As is so often repeated here at SLD, “BE the change you want to see in the world” (Ghandi). If you lead by example by understanding me first, I will want to do everything I can to understand you (win/win).
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If you lead by example by understanding me first, I will want to do everything I can to understand you (win/win).

By trusting in this correct principle and sticking with it, it will pay off in the long-run and do wonders for your relationships.

Understand first, then be understood.

References:

Covey. S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Part THREE: Public Victory, HABIT 5: Principles of Empathetic Communication: 155-163
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