Trust-Building Practice #11 – Seek First to Understand and Then to be Understood
Trust is built when people feel they are being heard. Stop now & remember a specific person, who does not, or did not, really listen to you. Recall how you felt not being heard. Chances are good that this “broke trust” with you in some way. We often do not think of trust in this way, and yet there is a lack of trust when we feel someone does not listen. That may be a lack of trusting they will hear your specific instructions and carry out your plans accurately. Often this type of trust breach is unconscious for us. In other words, we may not consciously say they aren’t listening and so now we do not trust them. The other often unconscious breach of trust may be more emotionally-based. In other words, there is a part of us that does not want to open up to people we experience as not listening. So we do not trust them with our feelings. As you can see, there are many areas of trust. What is the area broken for you when others don’t listen?
Begin to observe your relationships from a curious place and note where trust is built and broken with regard to communication. My personal experience is that I don’t trust people enough to be vulnerable and open myself up to them if I do not feel they are hearing me. In the business environment, I do not trust a boss who does not listen. I fear that my job will get harder because she will miss something that I have told her. I do not trust a secretary who does not listen to me. I fear that my assignments will not get done well, accurately, timely, or at all if he is not listening to me.
Who are the people in your life who do not listen to you? What effect does that have on you?
Of course you can see the same will be true when you do not listen to others. When you are multi-tasking, you are giving the impression that you are not listening and you are breaking trust. Your family will not want to share important things with you if they do not feel you are hearing them. Your work partners will be concerned about your ability to do the job if they feel you are not listening. This may be going on around you and you may not know it. It is not always immediately apparent when others do not trust you or when certain actions break trust. So do not expect that you will know if people have lost trust in you because they believe you are not listening. Many people (and some personality types in particular such as classic “type A” or “driving” types of personalities) believe they can do something else while listening. This is often a sincerely-held belief. But whether or not you believe this is true, what is perhaps more important is the appearance you give — one of not fully listening. Begin to notice where your attention is when someone else is talking to you. Trust will be broken if others do not believe you are listening.
One way to tell if others are feeling heard is whether they listen to you. People will not listen until they feel heard. Obviously this means someone has to be the first to listen. Often we each talk and talk and try to be heard, but never stop to listen. Be the first to stop and listen! Secondly, if a person is communicating with high emotion, and especially if the emotion is not dissipating, they are not feeling heard. When someone is upset and they feel truly heard, their emotions begin to subside.
What are the ways in which we stop listening? The main way is to be doing, or thinking, about something else when the other person is talking. Three steps to effective listening are:
1. First, stop anything else you may be doing when someone is talking to you. For many of you, this will particularly include when you are on the phone. In my experience people communicating on the phone are the most likely to multi-task when talking. But know this – people can tell when you are not fully listening on the phone. Think back to the people you are in relationship with. Think of examples of times you have been talking on the phone and you have known, believed or suspected the other person was doing something else or focused on something else. You know when they are not listening.
Step away from your computer. Don’t secretly communicate with someone in the room. Don’t open your mail. Try this – put down everything you are doing and focus on the person speaking. It is actually a very pleasant experience. It builds stronger relationships and is a time management tool as well because when we do one thing at a time, we are far more efficient.
2. Second, be present. As I said, multi-tasking will cause you not to listen. The human brain is only designed to do one thing at a time. It is only designed to focus on one thing at a time. Therefore, if you have something else on your mind, you cannot be fully present to the conversation. “Be present” means focus. Not just physically being with only the speaker, but mentally clearing away all the other thoughts in your head. One way to do this is to be very curious about what they are wanting to get across to you.
3. Finally, reflect back what you are hearing. One of the main tools that coaches are taught in order to listen deeply and effectively and to give their clients the confidence and trust to speak authentically and vulnerably is called “reflective” or “empathic” listening. To truly take your listening to the next level, after setting aside what you are doing and bringing your mind to the conversation, listen closely for the message being conveyed. When you have it, say something like, “What I hear you saying is…” or “Do you mean that…?” or “It seems your point is…” This is an amazingly effective technique that will allow you to not only appear to listen, but actually listen, build trust AND get the message being sent.
With yourself: Tune in to your true self and the honest, authentic voice within. We have far more wisdom than we give ourselves credit for. Recognize that the negative, sabotaging voice in your head is not “you.” You can choose to listen to it or not. Finally, do not be swayed by others’ opinions when you know they are not right for you. Listen to the “still, small voice” within.