One of the things I have come to understand is that the world is full of silent noise. Everyone wants to be heard but no one wants to listen. In the end, we end up making a lot of noise without passing anything across, hence ‘silent noise’.
Silent noise is a product of a world that seeks to be understood first instead of trying to understand what the other person has to say. Because of this, even when we feel like we are listening, we are only waiting for our turn to add our voice to the fray.
It seems like everyone has something to say. Walk into any gathering and listen as everyone seemingly has an opinion or experience on any given issue. Rather than seek out what the other party has to say, we formulate our own response in our head, waiting for the first sign of opportunity.
I remember I was in a gathering where we discussed the concept of ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ It was something some of us had read in a book by Steven R. Covey titled ‘The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.’
Steven R. Covey observed: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Someone raised a concern during the discussion. He wondered if it was really possible to listen to understand without seeking to make a response. We were not psychologists but we felt it was a pretty hard thing to do. Even as you read this piece, your mind is unconsciously searching out points you do not agree with. If this were a discussion, you might have raised your objections by now.
While we agreed listening with an intent is a pretty hard thing to do, it is not impossible. In fact, if you do not listen to understand what the speaker is trying to pass across, how do you expect to make an objective analysis of his statement and respond appropriately?
There is a lot to gain from trying to listen first. To start with, we gain more. When we interact with others, we can choose to simply exchange words or listen to each other. If we exchange words, we would only be making silent noise. We would be speaking but no one would be hearing a thing (as we are not listening). In the end, we would have only succeeded in expressing our views without gaining anything from the other party’s perspective.
That defeats the essence of communication. It would have been better if we had just kept to ourselves rather than engage in a competition of who could reply more. This is even worse if the situation had birthed a disagreement. We would most likely end the argument believing we are the only right party.
The alternative to this is to seek to understand first. By so doing, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to gain what the other party has to offer. It might not be something worth our time but how would we know if we do not take the time to listen, and to listen with the intent to understand.
By doing this, we take on a new perspective, we see things from a different angle. Our world-view is broadened and we can respond based on our new understanding. In this sense, our response would be organic; a natural response to what we had heard.
Another advantage is that we gain the other party’s trust. While this might not happen everything, when we seek out to understand other people, the gesture is usually reciprocated. Therefore, rather than trying to speak over the other party’s head in an attempt to express our opinions and concerns, we simply have to understand them and we will have the opportunity to express ourselves in an atmosphere and understanding and acceptance.
This eases up tension and allows for the free flow of ideas. Even as we speak, our approach will be tempered by the new perspective we just gleaned from trying to understand the other party. This would translate into a mutually beneficial conversation and possibly a stronger relationship.
In summary, listen to understand others, regardless whatever thoughts might pop up in your head as they speak. Listen to understand and the same will be done to you.