About active listening

It’s often interesting and enlightening to observe your own behaviour and to fully understand why you are behaving like you are. I’ve recently been observing how I listen, and it’s been eye-opening, both in the observation as in the next steps.

Listening to the other, or for myself?

What was my observation? Turns out I was not really listening to the other person, but rather scanning their end of the conversation for hooks to hang my own arguments on. And observing others listening to me, I noted it is something quite a few people do. We don’t really listen to someone else, we listen for an opportunity to make the conversation about us, about what we are thinking, believing, considering true.

A missed learning opportunity

Such behaviour of course also means that we are not learning anything, because we do not allow new information to reach us. And that is of course an enormously wasted opportunity for us and a sincere lack of respect for the other person.

Dennett’s four steps

So, what to do? An article I recently read on brainpickings.org explains the solution I’ve come to adopt more and more, although it is a solution which requires respect from both sides. The solution is attributed to Daniel Dennett, who described it as a way to respectfully critique someone … but it also works fine when listening and providing feedback.

Dennett’s method consists of 4 discrete yet interconnected steps:

  1. Attempt to first re-express your counterpart’s position in a clear, vivid and fair manner;
  2. Then lists any points of agreement you may have with that specific position;
  3. After that, mention anything you have learned through the argument, such as a perspective on the subject matter you did never consider before … ;
  4. And then, and only then, bring your own, specific input to the table in as far as it’s relevant in the context of the exchange.

Time well worth investing

What about that respect? Well, this approach takes more time and we know that time is a resource significantly more rare today than it ever was in the past … because we all need to be so quick in replying to our social media accounts, our emails or whatever else distracts us after one full minute of attention. The upside of the approach is that is allows you to really connect with the other person, to learn a lot through them and it also shows them due respect because you are actually listening to them.

So try it, you may be surprised by the results.