Listen, Understand, Reply

By Eseoghene Kpolugbo, 22, a student of Law. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Notice how when a group of people are in a conversation, sometimes their voices overlap? Or how sometimes while you’re still talking, maybe in a conversation with your two closest friends, one person does not finish talking before the other starts? Well, that’s probably because they were already thinking of a similar situation they had been in before you even finished talking.

Now, I say this because I do it at times. Most of the time, we are too busy trying to compare scars or compare circumstances that we do not listen to and absorb the words of a speaker in order to understand the situation that person was in and if need be, give advice.

Reading this right now, you’re probably thinking, no that’s not true, I usually read or listen to understand. Well doesn’t that just make my point for me? Is that not you thinking up a reply instead of trying to understand my standpoint.

Now, one would think that I would have a ready solution to this problem seeing I have so easily diagnosed it, but sadly, that is not the case as it appears to simply be human nature. It is human nature to want to share similar stories of similar events that have happened to us. It is human nature to want to defend ourselves against the words of others; it is even human nature to want to appear to have had it worse than others. What is however not commonly human nature, is to listen quietly with the intent of simply understanding that problem of the speaker, or that simple message the speaker is trying to pass across without having a solution of your own or having a reply to that perceived wrongdoing.

Now, let me give a vivid illustration. So, the other day I was ruminating on possible bad habits I have after reading a morning devotional on bad habits. This devotional urged the readers to seek out a close confidante who would be willing to boldly tell us our flaws. So, I quickly sent a message to my best friend asking her to, without holding back, tell me my possible flaws, or bad habits if you wish. And she did. Now, when I was reading her reply, I could not bring myself to terms with some of the things she had said, as a matter of fact, while reading the reply I was already thinking up my replies to certain matters she had brought up, the same me who had told her to let it all out without restraint. When I finally got to the end, I had to hold myself back from replying and decided that it would only be fair if I tried to put myself in her shoes and understand things from her perspective. But the funny thing is, even after I had supposedly understood things from her point of view, I still had a reply to one of the points she raised.

What I’m basically saying is that the ability to listen and truly understand what the speaker is trying to convey should not restrict your right to reply. You can understand first and reply later, but it should not be the other way around. In fact, the sequence should be, Listen, Understand, Reply.

I could go on and on with various examples I have about this issue, but none would proffer a solution. I think the issue stems from the fact that we are too busy trying to assure the speaker that they are not alone in their thoughts that we completely miss the point. The question for thought should be, if I was in this kind of situation, what would I need from the listener? Would I require rapt attention or would I require hasty response, or even well thought-out response, thought with a complete lack of understanding? Or would I require that a listener take as much time as s/he needs to understand the message I have posed and if s/he never gives me a reply, that is perfectly alright as long as s/he understood my message?

So, basically, the message I am trying to convey is that I agree with Mr. Covey’s assertion that indeed most people do not listen with the intent to understand, but rather they listen with the intent to reply. This should not always be the case as the world, presently, needs more listeners who understand the plight of the speaker rather than those who have a ready reply to what the speaker has to say.

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