Saturday, February 06, 2016

How to understand other people better

How many times a day do you hear what someone says and wish you understood what they meant. Vocabulary is one kind of language barrier: if you don't understand the words being said, it's hard to grasp an overall meaning. But sometimes language itself is the barrier: you understand all the words and yet they don't add up to understanding what is being said. You are focused on the words and losing the message.

There's a better way to listen so that you understand. Before you get caught up in what the words mean, pay attention to the experience of the communicator. Notice changes in their emotions or attitudes as they speak. Where are they more tense or more relaxed? What changes do their words trigger in them? These changes carry as much of the message as the dictionary meaning of the words. The best listeners don't worry about the meaning of the words until they have a good idea how those words are changing the speaker.

Here's an exercise. With people we know well, we are often more interested in how they are than we are in what they say. Take that unconscious pattern and make it conscious. As you begin to interact with someone this week, let yourself label what you are noticing about their mood or attitude and energy level. (You can do this because you can think almost 10x faster than they can talk). Once you have a label, notice how that changes what you hear in their words.

There's a bonus. You'll find you also understand your own responses better. Some part of your mind has already been tracking the state of the speaker. Now that part is welcome to cooperate in making meaning instead of being at odds with your understanding of the words. You'll feel clear and more grounded as you listen.

No comments: