20 May 2011

You can’t fake real listening

Posted by paulandrew

No really, I'm listening

I am sometimes asked a curious question about listening:

“How can I make it seem like I’m interested in what the other person is saying?”

to which I can’t help but reply:

“Actually be interested.”

Here’s the thing: you can do all of the mechanics right, but if they don’t lead you to being genuinely interested in listening to the speaker, then that’s going to show. You may fool some of the people, some of the time, but in the bigger picture just doing the mechanics isn’t enough. In fact one could say that mechanics don’t really matter–what really matters most is being genuinely interested. People can tell.

Having said that, I believe that listening mechanics are useful to the extent that they help the listener be appropriately focused and connected to the speaker. It’s important to not confuse the ends and the means here: whatever the listener does should support genuine, interested, accepting listening, which in turn is to support the speaker in getting their thoughts out there, feeling accepted, and further developing their ideas.

In a way, I’m relieved by the idea that real listening, as a powerful phenomenon, can’t be faked.



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