Communication is one of the most important skills we learn in life. Most of our time awake, we spend communicating: reading, writing and talking. What most of us don’t fully master, however, is listening.
Most of the people communicate with the intent to be listened to, to be understood. When we listen to other people, we listen with the intent to respond, to give advice and we often judge. But when we listen, do we really try to understand what the other person is saying? Are we trying to put ourselves in their position?
Listening to someone else with the intention to understand them is called ‘empathic listening’. According to Rogers, the state of empathy is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another person with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings as if one were the other person without losing the ‘as if’ condition. In other words, to sense the other person’s hurt or pleasure without losing the recognition of ‘as if I were hurt’. If this quality is lost, it will become a state of identification. He furthermore states that it means entering the perceptual world of another. It involves being sensitive, and temporarily living in the other person’s life, without making judgments. One needs to let go of personal values and paradigms and listen without prejudice. It means translating someone’s words and signs into meaning, it is an experience of the conscious behind the outward communication (Rogers, 1975).
In other words, we need to step out of our own paradigm and try to look at situations from the other person’s perspective. When we do this, without being judgmental and without having the urge to think in an autobiographical way, we will be able to communicate on a higher level.
In my opinion, a lot of problems between people (relationships, friendships, family) can be resolved when we try to understand each other better. To listen to each other before we want to bring our own opinion across. Take for example parents, fighting custody battles. Both parties are so concerned about being right, about getting what they want, that they don’t listen to each other. They end up hating each other, making one another’s lives miserable and as difficult as possible. Wouldn’t things be easier if in such situations, people would talk to each other, listen to each other and to try to place themselves in the other’s shoes? The same goes for conflicts between countries. Each party is so convinced of their own ‘truth’, that they do not want to listen to the other. They do not want to take the time to understand what the other party feels and thinks. We are all so convinced of our own truths, that we consider everyone who believes in a different ‘truth’ to be stupid or closed minded. But aren’t we all, in a way?
One could say that this happens when we talk about ethical issues as well, such as: abortion, climate change, power, homosexuality, religion and war. We all have our own opinions about these subjects, and in discussions we are often so preoccupied with getting our own point across, we forget to listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Why do they think what they think? What is their paradigm?
According to Covey (1998) in order to be understood we need to speak with credibility (ethos), understanding (pathos) and reason (logos). Being honest and sincere will make people more willing to listen. It is also important to understand the things you say from different perspectives and points of view.
I think in order to influence other people, one has to be aware of one’s values and principles, and live according to them. In this way, things we do and say are in line with who we are. The mere fact of showing others how you live your life and explain things to them when they ask, can influence others around us. When we communicate with others, these principles and values shine through as well, which makes us more reliable in their eyes, someone who’s opinion they can trust and value. In this way we are more likely to get people to listen to our point of view. Trying to understand situations from different perspectives, and looking at it from the other person’s frame of reference, can make us aware of how we can talk to them in the most effective manner. Some may find directness offending or threatening, whereas others may appreciate it. I think that we learn most from people who do not think exactly the way that we do. Different perspectives on topics can give a more complete picture and can lead to better understanding of the subject as well as the other person.
In order to bring peace to the world, we need to learn more about each other. We need to learn about people who are different, we need to accept these differences and learn. If we try to understand others, try to look at things from their perspectives, I think the earth will be a much better place.