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Be Honest, Do You Really Want To Listen To People?

Be Honest, Do You Really Want Listen To People?

Everyone knows what it takes to truly communicate, right? This is a common topic in therapeutic circles, on blogs, just about all over the place.

We have the skills, no? We all know about letting another talk, paraphrasing back what he said, using ‘I’ statements to convey hurt. You know, all that “therapy talk.”

We’ve all perfected those, haven’t we. Okay, so we’re working on them!

Because often, in the heat of things, exhibiting those skills proves tough to do.

Think back on your most heated arguments of late.

Usually, the closer the relationship, the easier a difference of opinion can erupt into a full-blown fight. That argument was most likely with a spouse, a child, a brother or sister. Because, well, those closest to us know how to push our buttons most.

But this can happen with friends, colleagues, just about any person with whom you interact.

And we know as well, heated exchanges often are due to wanting to be heard, rather than wanting to hear what the other person is saying.

We all have our opinions, no? I know I’ve been guilty of this, and I bet you have too.

I truly believe that deep in our heart of hearts, we all just want to be heard.

I truly believe that deep in our heart of hearts, we all just want to be heard.

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Tough to do though, when everybody is wanting the same thing.

So before perfecting all those listening skills, you have to ask an essential question. This underlies all of the arguments, fusses, misunderstandings that occur when communication goes awry:

Do you care what the other person is saying?

That seems like such a simple question. And the knee-jerk reaction always is, “Of course I do!” Now her teeth begin to clench. “I wouldn’t be talking to him otherwise!”

But let a minute pass, ask the question again, and almost everybody begins to squirm, just a little bit . . .

Because you’re right in your stance, no? Of course you are! Your thoughts, opinions, values, well, they matter and everyone ought to see it your way.

Damn the torpedoes to what they think!

Okay, so it’s usually not quite that overt, those pesky “I’m right” thoughts. But if they weren’t there, you wouldn’t hold to your position so strongly; wouldn’t have such a resistance to what another thinks.

And when you’re in that mode, you can practice all the active-listening skills in the world, and the fiery results (at least internally) will be the same.

Until we get to the bottom of: “Do I really care what another is saying,” no actual listening will occur.

I had a microcosm example of this happen last week. My new wine novel is finished. Yahoo! And we’re going into the marketing tasks for it. I’ve employed the most wonderful writer/marketing expert, Virginia Tell, who excels in this, to help me.

Our first task was for me to write the synopsis, and then distill that down to a one-paragraph description, to then send to big-name authors, requesting jacket blurbs from them.

Now, this isn’t my strength. But it is hers.

The thing is, we had very different ideas on how these documents should read! And this is of course my novel, very close to my heart, and my goal was absolute perfection. Hers was too.

As we went back and forth (yes, it took us all week to get it just right), and I disagreed with a lot, I kept remembering that this truly is her bailiwick. And instead of tossing out what she’d say or write, I’d sit back and remember that. Because I have enormous respect for her and what she does.

I cared deeply about what she said.

And funny thing—it spurred me on to take each draft to the next level. I used what I agreed with, and with what I didn’t, wrote something even better.

The result was a best-case scenario all the way around.

Did we succeed?

Within an hour of sending a query to a NY Times Bestselling author and finalist for the National Book Critics Award, I received a reply: I'd be delighted to blurb your book.”

I could never, ever, have gotten there without Jinny.

And it happened because we respected one another, listened to one another—through our differences.

I cared—deeply—about what she had to say.

Only when you get to that place, to where the other person’s opinion actually matters to you, can you begin to actively listen. To make headway where the road seems blocked.

Then all those skills will shoot you forward like heat-seeking missiles.

The deepest form of respect, in the end, is to actually hear what another is saying.

How do you get to the place where you can hear?

This Post Has 66 Comments

  1. Reba Linker

    I love this post, Susan. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the ‘circle’ lately, and one of the most powerful concepts is ‘holding the center.’ (see “Calling the Circle” by Christina Baldwin). What you and Jinny did so well was ‘hold the center’ of your shared desire to do the best thing for the book, and your mutual respect. You were a circle of two, and your results were terrific. Congratulations on both the process and the fabulous blurbs. And btw, super congratulations about your new book!

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, Reba, I love that–‘hold the center.’ That just said in 3 words what it took me the entire post to convey!

  2. Jaime

    I do my best to listen to people and take into consideration their feelings on a subject before I can respond. If someone is automatically defensive about a topic, I’ll listen and maybe not disagree right away. I’m terrible with conflict, and sometimes I just want to hear all sides before I give my input. Oh, and if it’s a conversation with my husband, I have to make sure all distractions are set aside so we can really hear each other – and fully listen – for both of us.

    1. Susan Malone

      What a perfect recipe for success, Jaime–to take the person’s feelings into consideration. And I just love that you make sure all distractions are set aside so that you and your husband can fully listen to one another. Perfect!

  3. Catherine Sargent

    This is a great post. I always try to listen, if I am going to take the time to have a conversation with someone, I want to get as much as I can out of it. Plus you never know what you might learn or what you might teach someone else.

    1. Susan Malone

      I love that, Catherine, and so true–we never know what we might learn or teach, unless we really listen!

  4. Lori English

    This is great post and you are very insightful of what are you strengths and that is a good thing. If you have that you can work to listen., I agree I listen when i really care about someone it’s a give and take with communication. Thanks Lori English

    1. Susan Malone

      So true, Lori–when you know your strengths, you can work to listen! Love that.

  5. Audrey

    It can be really hard some times to just listen! I know that some times I am already thinking of what to say when they are done talking.

    1. Susan Malone

      That’s what we often do, Audrey–think of our responses before folks are done talking. That’s human nature, but it sure hampers listening!

  6. Colleen

    Congrats on the blurb, Susan! That’s awesome. Can’t believe you’re finished with the novel already. And great point in this blog. :O)

    1. Susan Malone

      Laughing, Colleen–I started this novel 10 years ago! Real life got in the way 🙂 But I committed last year to finishing it. Whew!

  7. Liz Mays

    This is definitely something we should all work on. I’ve definitely been in conversations with siblings and friends where we are all trying to express our thoughts without listening to one another.

    1. Susan Malone

      We all do it, Liz. But we can get better at listening!

  8. Tamuria

    Congratulations on finishing the book, Susan, and the wonderful outcome re the blurb. I am much better at listening than I used to be. I used to be determined to make people see things my way but find, these days, I am more interested in learning and understanding the way other people think, as I already know what I think. Sometimes, the listening will change my point of view, other times not so much. Either way, I’m learning so much more by actively listening with an open mind.

    1. Susan Malone

      I just love that, Tami–“I am more interested in learning and understanding the way other people think, as I already know what I think.” That is just beautiful!
      And thank you about the book 🙂 I’m excited!

  9. Neely Moldovan

    I try REALLY hard to hear and listen to people all the time. Sometimes I do feel as though if its something I dont want to hear I have to try extra hard.

    1. Susan Malone

      That’s true of us all, Neely. When we don’t want to hear something, we do have to try extra hard!

  10. Nellwyn

    This is so true! I can be hard to really listen– especially in the heat of an argument when you’re trying so hard to make your point and prove you’re right. Whenever I catch myself interrupting someone I know I’m not really listening and I try and take a step back and refocus on what the other person is saying.

    1. Susan Malone

      That’s the perfect solution, Nellwyn–take a step back and refocus on what the other person is saying. Beautiful!

  11. Kristen Wilson

    Yep… guilty.. sometimes I am a horrible listener likely because I am working on what to say next and how to deal with them.. or relating to them… when in fact I should just be listening.

    You are right though… lately.. I am PURPOSELY ignoring folks due to all of the hateful comments by folks who are overgeneralizing a ‘people’ and clearly think they are smarter by placing judgement on what the future holds. ha.. I guess they are gypsies/ mind readers/ fortune tellers? lol

    1. Susan Malone

      Yep, anytime we’re working on what to say next, we’re not listening!

  12. Virginia Tell

    Susan, you were the perfect client. Communication is surely the key, and you teach us all.

  13. Mindy Iannelli

    Congratulations on the novel, Susan! Thank you for sharing your recent experience and how you stopped to think about whether you really cared what she was saying or not. That is an important element that I’m sure we mostly miss out on considering. I will definitely think more about that from now on – for both sides of the conversation!

  14. Kathy @ SMART Living 365

    Hi Susan! How timely you are! I too find that my listening and communicating skills are not yet at the level I would like them to be. I find myself far too reactionary over certain topics–and especially from people who I didn’t except to disagree with–so I tend to make the situation so very personal. I like your example of realizing that you both had a similar goal and how that helped you. But I’m not certain that when we disagree we all have a similar goal or intention. However, until I can create some “space” around the issue long enough to detach from the personal, I will probably never discover it. And for the most part, I agree that behind many of our actions is the desire to be heard. Lots to think about! Thanks Susan. ~Kathy

    P.S. Congratulations on the finishing the book and the promise of a “blurb.” Looking forward to reading the book.

    1. Susan Malone

      I hear you, Kathy. Some things are so much more difficult than others, no? I love the idea of creating space around the issue long enough to detach! That’s a great tool.
      And thank you about the book! I’m excited 🙂

  15. Apolline Adiju

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. You hit the nail right on point! I must say that I am quite the opposite because I tend to listen and give most people the opportunity to talk and express themselves before I get in (maybe because I have the habit of listening so that I can analysis at the end)

    1. Susan Malone

      That is beautiful, Apolline! And I can hear you listening by your wonderful posts. I’m not surprised!

  16. Richard McMaster

    We all need to be better listeners not just to the words, but out of respect feelings.

    1. Susan Malone

      So true, Rick! Respect is such a beautiful thing, no?

  17. Teresa Salhi

    This is a very good topic. I also believe that we all just want to be heard …and understood. Congratulations on the end result of this sensitive and rewarding conversation. I believe when we let go a bit and get out of our head / or ego and drop into our heart ….we can feel more into what we all want and thus the conversations can be more satisfying for all. Sounds like this worked out beautifully Susan, thanks for sharing a wonderful example.

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, I love that, Teresa–“when we let go a bit and get out of our head / or ego and drop into our heart . . . ” That’s a tool I can use! Thank you.

  18. Honest conversation really is the basis for a good friendship or relationship of any kind! Such good points.

    1. Susan Malone

      It’s the “honest” part that gets us at times, no? But so true, Julie–that is the basis for any good relationship!

  19. Richard McMaster

    Respect and honesty must be sisters

  20. Vatsala Shukla

    I’m a good listener, Susan, and may I add, I talk a lot too if I am close to the other person. My simple principle is to be an active listener. If I am not in a place to give my attention to the other person (it happens with deadlines or other immediate distractions) I am honest enough to tell them that I want to talk to them, I’m preoccupied and set a time when I can give them my undivided attention.

    It works well for both parties because they know I’m there for them and our relationship is stronger.

    1. Susan Malone

      What a great tool, Vatsala! I’m guilty of not doing that, and then feeling remorse after. I’m having a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ moment! Lol. Thank you!

  21. Joan M Harrington

    Hi Susan,
    I can totally relate to your post 🙂 To be honest, I really have to make sure that when I am talking with someone that indeed I really do want to hear what they have to say and that it matters….otherwise, I say I am “listening”, when in reality I am really tuning them out..not completely but mostly because I have to admit I really do not care to listen to them 😉 I am sure I am not the ONLY one who does this right? lol

    Great share!

    Your post made me realize that I do need to listen and tune-in more to the person that I am talking with 🙂

    1. Susan Malone

      We all do that, Joan! Sometimes we really don’t care, no? That’s when I have to sit myself down and dig to the bottom of why.

  22. Annemarie LeBlanc

    First of all I would like to congratulate you on your wine novel. It must be an exhilarating experience to have finally completed it. I love this post about active listening. Everything is so true and every one can relate to it. I mean, I can listen, but did I understand and accept what was being said to me? Active listening involves not only the sensory stimulation of the auditory nerve, but it goes deeper – understanding, accepting, empathizing.

    1. Susan Malone

      Exactly, Annemarie–understanding, accepting, empathizing. That’s it in a nutshell!
      And thank you about the novel. It’s most definitely a nice feeling :P)

  23. Beverley Golden

    As I was reading this, Susan, what came up for me was that at different times, we are more open to hearing the other person. It takes a lot of practice ‘warming’ to the other and opening to a place of empathy for them and their need to be heard. It isn’t something we can do all the time. We ‘expect’ people to listen to us because we’re so darn fascinating and then find it challenging to reciprocate. I really do believe it takes a lot of practice to put ourselves aside and to be there for the other. Your example of a collaborative project that both of you had a vested interest in, is a wonderful example of when it works so well and inspires both parties. There are also times in our life where we are being called to hear the other person, even when we don’t want to, because that is a way to be in compassionate service and to give. Make sense?

    1. Susan Malone

      I love that, Beverley, and all so true. It does take practice. And what a beautiful definition–at times we are being called to hear the other person as a way to compassionate service and to give. Beautiful!

  24. Sue Kearney

    Honestly, I confess that there have been times when I have checked out instead of listened. Oy, I don’t love that part of my human flawed personality. But I’m happy to report that I have learned the benefits of actually listening, and you’re right — it only works when I actively care about the other person’s opinion. Blessed be.

    1. Susan Malone

      We all have, haven’t we, Sue? We’re all human 🙂

  25. Christy Soukhamneut

    Yes, we are emotional beings and, deep down, we have a need to be heard and understood. We want to connect with people. I was just watching the show Alone with my husband and I don’t think the survival part of their journey is the hardest part…it’s the being alone for weeks upon weeks.

    1. Susan Malone

      So true, Christy–we are gregarious beasts. And learning to be alone can be a challenge. Reminded me of that Pascal quote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

  26. Vironika Tugaleva

    I love this post, Susan. I agree completely. Too often, we focus on learning the external skills without the essential understanding that drives them. I think, much of the time, we can skip on the 10-step lists, cultivate a depth of understanding, and watch those skills fall into place. 🙂

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, I so agree Vironika! When we attend to our own reasons for why we react as we do, and cultivate that depth of understand (I love that), those skills really will fall into place. Perfectly stated!

  27. April Williams

    One of my favorite quotes is by Stephen Covey “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I try to be so mindful of this. To hear people with intention, to understand and not just simply to hear them. Love this post and the insight you shared xo

    1. Susan Malone

      I love that Covey quote as well, April! “To hear people with intention, to understand . . .” That’s it in a nutshell.

  28. Anne

    Great post about listening. It is very true that you may thinking you are “listening”, but are you really? It makes a difference to care about what you are hearing.

    1. Susan Malone

      It really does make a difference if you care about what you’re hearing, doesn’t it, Anne!

  29. Alene Geed

    I love this post. I can think of many times in my life when I really did not care to listen but felt I had to. Thankfully I have evolved since then. And I realize that the people I most want to be around are those who really hear what I am saying.

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, that’s so true, Alene–we most want to be around those who truly hear us!

  30. Melanie

    It’s such a hard lesson to learn at times but we must always remember that at one time or another we have wanted and need to be heard.we must listen to others

    1. Susan Malone

      It really helps us to remember that, doesn’t it, Melanie–we’ve all wanted and needed to be heard.

  31. Renee groskreutz

    As the world becomes more and more chaotic not listening becomes easier and easier. We have to really WANT to listen to people.

    1. Susan Malone

      So true, Renee–we do have to really want to listen!

  32. Rachel Lavern

    Yes, we think we listen; however, we really do not. I have to do better.

    I often find myself finishing someone’s sentences, interrupting with my own stories, frowning, etc. Now we have people checking their smartphone when someone is talking to us (I’m not guilty to this one).

    1. Susan Malone

      The rise in technology–especially smart devices–sure has us disconnecting, doesn’t it, Rachel!

  33. Sabrina Quairoli

    I find that putting my ego aside and putting myself in their shoes to see where they are coming from allows for a quicker revolution. To do this easily, I remember that I do not know it all and I am on this planet to learn. Great post, Susan!

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, I love that, Sabrina–putting yourself in others’ shoes. I think so often we forget that. Great reminder!

  34. Phoenicia

    You have touched on some crucial points for effective communication. Most people are half listening and half waiting for the gap in which they can speak. I have done this and it is not a good form of listening at all. Giving a person your full attention will encourage them to open up to you which I assume is our aim.

    1. Susan Malone

      So true, Phoenicia! And we deserve one another’s full attention, no?

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