How developed are your listening skills? Without good listening skills, you could be making your life much more difficult. The fact is that so much stress occurs when people don’t listen to each other. Listening—really listening—to others can improve relationships and make life much more enjoyable. To make this happen, though, you need to engage in true listening, or what I call “empathic listening.”
When it comes to listening, “active listening” is a term with which most are familiar. It means constructively engaging in the act of interpretation while capturing the information being presented. Stephen R. Covey in his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that most often we do not listen with the intention of understanding; instead, we listen with a focus on replying.
Dr. Covey says that when another person speaks, we’re usually “listening” at one of four levels.
- We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all.
- At times we may practice pretending. “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.”
- Sometimes we may be practicing selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. We often do this when we’re listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child.
- We may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing on the words that are being said.
But very few of us regularly practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening: “empathic listening.”
Hone Your Empathic Listening Skills
Practicing empathic listening requires silencing your inner thought processes and absorbing the information being presented. The results of this type of listening can be profound in a number of ways, including your personal growth and improving relationships. The reason is that this type of listening assists your understanding of other people’s viewpoints. And when you reach this level of listening and understanding with others, you naturally reduce your stress level.
Think about some recent conversations you’ve had with others today. What level of listening were you engaging? How could the conversation been improved if you had engaged in empathic listening? What can you do today to improve your listening skills? Please share your experiences and ideas on the Without Stress Facebook page.