The Anatomy of Listening Effectively

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.


5 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Listening Effectively

  1. This is a great post, Michele. I really enjoyed it and will think of it when my friends and family need me to listen! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Galia….after reading this book I realized how “little” I effectively listen to others…eye-opening (or should I say ear-opening?) 🙂

  2. Such good, solid advice. It is so important to me to be a good listener, but (based on this post) I know I fall short more often than I would guess. Truly being engaged and invested when someone is sharing is one of the most significant ways to convey that we care.

    1. It is, Diane, and I think about how little we listen and why? For me, it takes mental and emotional energy…and focus on the other person’s needs and not my own…these suggestions are a great place to start!

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