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  • What is most important for effective communication?
  • Do you listen to respond or to understand?

My grandmother told us people have two ears and one mouth, so they’d listen twice as much as they talk. But listening — I mean really listening — is hard, especially if is someone we disagree with. Think about it; when you are in a disagreement or should I say argument with a family member or someone with a different political persuasion, it is hard to listen actively and empathetically. Scholars with time on their hands try to make a distinction between active and empathic listening. They are conjoined twins to me.

Every morning I pray and meditate. My meditation affirmation is to focus on humility and empathy. I served in several leadership roles over the years. As a result, I gained great confidence and pride in being a knowledgeable decision-maker. Sometimes power and hubris made me less likely to listen. Ironically listening makes leaders more effective. In addition to providing important information, it is emotional. The more complex the conversation, the more emotional. Emotions muffle the spoken word. It can be difficult to listen in long-term relationships because you might feel you already know what the other person is going to say; so, at your own peril, you are only half listening. It is most difficult to listen when verbally accosted by a person whose perspective is vastly different from yours. I have experienced that and know it will happen again. Most of the time it is unexpected. That is where my active and empathetic affirmation comes into play.

I want to be an active and empathetic listener who pauses, listens, paraphrases, and uses curiosity to ask clarifying questions rather than respond in a hostile manner. I want to give my full attention, hear the words, listen to the tone, and watch body language to lower intensity to give the other person and me the best chance to have a productive conversation. Productive doesn’t always mean agreement; it could simply mean respectfully disagreeing yet understanding each other’s perspective better. Wouldn’t the world be better if more people could do that?