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“That’s Not What I Meant”: 11 Pointers to Promote Good Listening

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“But you said…”

“No, I didn’t…”

“Yes, I heard you say…”

“Well, that’s not what I meant!”

And so, it goes – round and round and round, until we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend, and destroy each other.

You were sure you said what you believed would be easily understood. And yet, that is not what the other person heard. Anger is intensified, and you dig in your heels and refuse to budge.

How did we get into this conflict in the first place? And how do we get out of it?

Everybody wants their needs met. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be liked and appreciated and respected. And yet, we fight more than we agree.

When we find ourselves in constant disagreement, we believe that if the other person would only see our point of view, we wouldn’t have this problem. “If you cared, wouldn’t you understand my needs?”

The only problem is that the other person is thinking the same thing. And since neither person is listening to the other, the conflict intensifies.

Recognizing Patterns of Response

To end the constant arguing and quarreling, we need to first become aware of our patterns of communicating.

What ignites our conflicts?

What is our typical pattern of response?

These patterns soon become habits that are constantly repeated.

The first step in stopping conflicts is breaking our usual pattern of response.

Different Perceptions

When dealing with others it is important to understand that each of us sees the world differently. Our observations influence how we determine reality. It plays a role in our self-esteem and how we present ourselves.

We cannot separate people from their emotions, deeply held values, or different perspectives and viewpoints. To communicate effectively, we need to build trust, understanding, and respect.

Interpretations will be different. When we continue to experience disagreements, it’s time to examine how we talk and listen.

Understanding requires active listening. Listening requires attention, effort, time, and focus. Our brains are going so fast we often become bored and shut down before we have heard what the other person is trying to say.

Meanings are in people. We infer meanings to the words we hear. The problem comes when our inferences become confused with facts. When we make inferences, we are usually mind-reading. Then a perception check is needed.

11 Pointers to Establish Good Listening

Many of the problems we experience in communication happen because we don’t understand how to listen.

Here are 11 pointers that can help establish good listening.

1. Keep body language and tone of voice the same. Look at the person. Give them your full attention. Does the expression or tone of their voice match the verbal message?

2. Stay focused on what is being said. Don’t plan your reply. Actively work at listening. Resist distractions. Keep an open mind.

3. Suspend judgments. Delay evaluations. Don’t make snap decisions. Rather than reacting to perceived criticism, find common ground – someplace where you both can agree, even if it is agreeing to disagree.

4. Don’t speak for the other person. Wait and listen! Listen for ideas.

5. Restate what you hear. Paraphrasing isn’t interpretation. It is clarification. You don’t add to what the other has said. You simply restate what you heard in your own words and ask for clarification.

“What I heard you say was… is that correct?”

6. Be reflective. Validate feelings. Mirror back what you see and hear.

“It sounds to me like you are sad about…”

“I’ll bet that’s frustrating…”

“You’re upset with me because…”

“You sound like you feel anxious about…”

“I’m not sure I understand. Did you mean you are disappointed that…”

7. Avoid advising. People want us to listen and help clarify. Unless you are working together on a problem, giving advice, or offering solutions is a put-down. It says, “You are not capable of making a decision.”

8. Don’t analyze. Interpretations are helpful only when people ask for your aid in considering alternative meanings. They don’t want you to think for them. Examples of interpretations:

“I think what’s really bothering you is…”

“I don’t think you really meant that…”

9. Ask questions for clarification. Questions can help problem-solve and can clarify thinking and understanding. Use information that others bring to you. Here are some examples.

“You said Mary was acting differently toward you lately. What was she doing?’

“Do you have any reasons for (saying or doing) that?”

“Is that very important to you?”

“How did you feel when that happened?”

“Did you decide that or were you feeling under pressure?”

10. Be careful when reassuring others. Your words may not be supportive.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about. I know you’ll be fine.”

“Don’t worry; we all love you.”

“You should get out more. Then you will feel better.”

A better approach would be to validate feelings – normalize what is happening to the other person. Empathy says, “I hear you. I can understand where you are coming from.”

11. Prompt with encouraging statements. Brief statements of encouragement help the other person sort things out.

 “Uh-huh.”  Or, “I see…” indicate you are listening.

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