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  • Writer's pictureSean Grace

Listening vs Understanding

Good communication always starts with listening. But listening is often misconstrued as understanding. Most people “listen” for the sake of waiting to speak, not necessarily to thoughtfully respond to the person who last spoke. How many times have we been in a conversation when we say to someone - “that’s not what I said” or “that’s not what I meant”?

An exercise I conduct in some of my workshops involves sparking a discussion around a controversial topic; a topic that I know has many different opinions. I’ll start the conversation and then ask for someone’s input; after they give their particular point of view I then ask for someone else’s opinion, but before they can give their point of view they first must paraphrase what the last person just said. If their summary or paraphrasing is correct, according to the person who gave it, they then can give their own opinion about the topic. If the summary statement is incorrect, the original speaker restates their opinion and the other person needs to try summarizing once again.

This group exercise forces everyone to listen - actively. The paraphrasing encourages each participant to not simply mimic or repeat but rephrase the other person’s opinion, which requires a deeper understanding of what was just said.

As author and educator Stephen Covey said - “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. This fact underlies so much of the poor communication that exists in our business and our personal lives.

Try paraphrasing what someone communicates to you before you reply with your own opinion, this will acknowledge your honest attempt to understand instead of simply waiting to speak next.


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