What Are You Saying?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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In his national bestseller, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey declared that “the single most important principle” in interpersonal relations is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Most of us listen to the person speaking not to understand that person but to form a reply. We either are speaking or preparing to speak. All information filters through my own look at the world as I overlay my own autobiography onto other people’s lives—my home movies onto the other person’s behavior.

“When another person speaks,” Covey said, “we’re usually listening at one of four levels. We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all. We may be pretending to listen. ‘Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.’ We may practice selective listening, hearing only parts of the conversation. Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words being said. But very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening.”

Empathic listening? Covey defines it as “listening with intent to understand the thoughts and feelings of another.” Instead of projecting my autobiography and assumptions on another’s thoughts, feelings, motives, and interpretation, I deal with the reality inside that person’s head and heart. I focus in order to receive the deep communication of another human soul.

The great German psychiatrist Carl Jung once said that everyone longs to tell his or her story to someone and have it understood and accepted. Most of us recognize that desire in our own hearts. We must keep that in mind when someone comes to us and begins to open to us his or her life story. To listen attentively and with an open heart is to bestow a gift of great value. Listening often takes time, and the timing may not be convenient. It demands full presence and attention. Unless we are a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or clergy, we have never trained to listen. But not every person who opens up to us is looking for answers. The person talking knows the difference between the ear of a friend and the ear of someone using a skill-based technique.

To enter into a helping relationship essentially is to listen as a companion—not a teacher, not a savior, not an expert, but a companion. I will accompany you on your journey, take to heart all that concerns you, be there to listen when you need me to.

A statement I heard years ago sums it up well:
Do not walk behind me. I may not lead.
Do not walk in front of me. I may not follow.
Just walk beside me, listen, and be my friend.