Do you find that your relationships at work or in your family are less than ideal? Perhaps characterized by conflict, or worse – distant and cut off – as though people have stopped trying to bridge the gap with you, they’ve just given up? We can never change other people, only ourselves, so it may be a good idea to quickly do a personal check-in with regard to how we are relating to other people. Basically, it’s in our attitude to others, which shows up very, very strongly in the quality of our listening.
There are two kinds of listening, one of which alienates others, and the other, which deepens our bonds of co-operation and understanding.
The first is competitive listening. We pretend to pay attention while we wait for an opening to promote our own point of view, without really caring about the view of the other person. We listen for weak points in their argument where we can shoot them down, or formulate our points of rebuttal even while they are speaking. Sometimes we even plan that crushing comeback. We are in it to win it.
The second is active listening. Here, we genuinely want to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling and wanting. We check that we have understood both the meaning of their words but, importantly, also the feelings and any meaning below the words. We check out that we have correctly understood them, by reflecting back to them what we understood them to say. Perhaps we didn’t understand accurately and they can then correct us and we can recalibrate our understanding.
When people feel genuinely heard, this deepens the quality of their relationship with us, and builds bridges.
It comes down to whether we view the other as our adversary, our inferior, or someone equally worthy of respect. When people feel respected by us, they become our allies. We should treat all people well, irrespective of their status relative to ours. Here is a beautiful illustration of the value of respectful human interaction from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, made into the famous film, My Fair Lady.
Eliza goes on famously to observe that Pickering treats flower girls just as he would a Duchess. So – if your relationships are strained, do a check-in. Are you treating the people around you like duchesses or like flower girls? It will be reflected in the quality of your listening.