Another frequent challenge in communication is people not listening actively and hearing things correctly. So two people are talking to each other, the speaker thinks the listener is hearing and understanding. However, there is no guarantee the listener is accurately understanding what the speaker is saying. Sometimes people respond to what they think they heard, instead of what was actually said.
I see this situation often when working with couples and families. Frequently someone is responding to what they heard, and what they heard doesn’t match what was said. Often there is fault in both the speaker and the listener. The speaker may, in fact, not be speaking clearly and directly, leaving much to interpretation. The listener may be reading in between the lines or may be thinking about what they’re going to say in return. Either way, an argument heats up because people are talking and no one is listening.
In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about “Listen to Understand.” The idea is to truly focus on the speaker and wait to respond, rather than half listening while waiting for our turn. This idea is similar to the concept of active listening, meaning choosing to attend to the speaker fully and completely. Both of these approaches help improve communication.
Another communication or listening technique is called mirroring. Using this technique, the listener reflects or restates back to the speaker what they heard. The goal is not to interpret or respond, but instead accurately repeat what the listener has heard. It often starts with, “So what I’m hearing is…” followed by restating or reflecting what the speaker said. This extra step virtually guarantees that the listener clearly understands the speaker because the act of reflection gives the speaker the opportunity to correct or clarify what was said and heard.
So the next time you’re in a difficult conversation with a loved one, try speaking with “I feel…” statements and try listening actively and mirroring the speaker. You’ll be amazed!