The Anatomy of Listening Effectively

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  • By Michele Howe.

    I admit it. I’ve always considered myself a good listener. I was wrong. Not until I read Stephen Covey’s book, The 8th Habit, did I realize how limited my listening skills have been.

    Perhaps my biggest mistake is trying to formulate a response while someone is still talking with me. Instead of giving my full attention to the speaker, I’m guilty of (1) allowing my mind to race ahead trying to solve a problem and (2) busy deciding if I agree (or not) with the one talking. In either scenario, I’m not fully engaged in what’s being said and therefore, I’m not listening effectively (and that has to change).

    According to author Stephen Covey in his newest title, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, communication is the most important skill in life. Covey writes that people spend about two-thirds of their time reading, writing, speaking or listening. There is one of these areas, however, that takes up between 40 and 50 percent of individuals’ time every day. Can you guess which area?

    It is listening. Covey shares that most people “think” they know how to listen because they do it so much. But the truth is, the majority of us listen solely within our own frame of reference. This author explains that there are five levels of everyday listening beginning at the lowest level include:

    1. Ignoring
    2. Pretend listening (patronizing)
    3. Selective listening
    4. Attentive listening
    5. Empathic listening

    The first four areas in this continuum fall within one’s own frame of reference. Only the last, Empathic listening, does a person actually “transcend your own autobiography…out of your own history and judging tendencies, and get deeply into the frame of reference or viewpoint of another person.”

    Covey underscores that the primary need to feel understood is like the body’s need for air in the lungs. Unless and until a person feels understood (and listened to), you will get no farther in communication with that individual.

    Read on to learn Stephen Covey’s practical insights on how to further develop your ability to listen empathetically (and well).

    • Be sincerely open to what others see and why they see the world as they do.
    • People react to new information based on their previous experiences and personal history.
    • There are always multiple ways to interpret information, keep this in the mental forefront of every conversation.
    • Frequently, communication breaks down because of how people define the words spoken. However, when a spirit of empathy is present, true understanding heightens.

    Michele Howe

    Michele Howe is a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, FaithfulReader.com, Retailers + Resources, Foreword Magazine, TeenReads.com, KidReads.com, among many others national and international publications. She has published over 2500 reviews/articles and has been featured on numerous radio shows across the country speaking on topics such as parenting and a diverse range of women's health issues. Her work has been published in MORE, FIRST for Women, Good Housekeeping, Christianity Today, Discipleship Journal, Midwest Living, Parentlife, Fullfill, Christian Single, Single Parent Family, Focus on the Family, PRISM, and Connections. She also does manuscript reviewing for several publishing houses including New Growth Press.

    Michele is the author of eighteen books for women. Her first book, "Going It Alone: Meeting the Challenges of Being a Single Mom" (Hendrickson Publishers), provided hope and practical helps for single moms new to parenting solo. She has also authored "Pilgrim Prayers for Single Mothers" (Pilgrim Press) and a third book of helps for single mothers titled, "Successful Single Moms" (Pilgrim Press.) In addition to these resources for single mothers, Michele wrote four separate titles combining real life stories with inspirational prayer retreats. These titles published by (Jossey-Bass) include: "Prayers for Homeschooling Moms," "Prayers to Nourish a Woman's Heart," "Prayers of Comfort and Strength" and "Prayers for New and Expecting Moms."

    Her more recent books include a follow-up resource to "Going It Alone" titled, "Still Going It Alone: Mothering with Faith and Finesse Once the Children Have Grown" (Hendrickson Publishers) and "Burdens Do a Body Good: Meeting Life's Challenges with Strength and Soul" co-authored with orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher A. Foetisch (Hendrickson Publishers).

    One Size Fits All: Making Meaningful Choices, Stepping Into a Meaningful Life was released in early 2013 by Lighthouse of the Carolinas. Burden Lifters: Every Woman's Every Day Resource Kit for a Healthy, Happy Life was released by Bondfire Books in late 2013 and ACTA Publications released, "Faith, Friends, and Other Floatation Devices" which is a compilation of stories, quotes, and practical lifestyle recommendations for "staying afloat" during life's toughest times. Her newest book, Empty Nest, What's Next? Parenting Adult Children Without Losing Your Mind was published fall of 2015. In the fall of 2016, "Caring for Aging Parents: Lessons in Love, Loss, and Letting Go" was released by Hendrickson Publishers. Summer of 2017, her sequel to Empty Nest, What's Next? will be published, Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest. Read more of Michele's work at michelehowe.wordpress.com and contact Michele at: michelehowewrites@gmail.com.

    For more information, please visit michelehowe.wordpress.com.

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    1. Pat Brake
      Pat Brake says:

      I, too, struggle to be a good listener. I am thinking about my response many times and don’t give the speaker my undivided attention. I had a roommate in Columbus years ago that was what I consider one of the best listeners ever! She made you feel like you were so important because she listened so carefully. It was great!! I really need to work on this area of my life. Thanks for the good reminder!!

      Reply
    2. Ellen Naylor
      Ellen Naylor says:

      It’s nice to see that a man so famous as Steve Covey wrote this book solely on communication, since most of us are underperformers, especially in empathetic listening. It is not taught in US schools, so it does not become a habit at a young age when it would be easiest, just like learning a foreign language.

      I think a key to empathetic listening is to forget about yourself, and really focus on the other person, not only what they’re saying, but why they might be saying what they’re saying, their tone, their motivation, and body motion if you’re with them. Shut off that inner voice and ego, and it’s easier to focus on the other person. However, culturally we are not programmed to do this in America. I call this practice cooperative communication…

      Reply

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