“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. Stephen Covey

Listen skills are an essential part of conflict management – not to mention probably the most important skill when dealing with customers. However, most people from time to time have been asked by someone – in a somewhat accusatory tone – “are you listening to me?” Most of the time our instant reaction is “yes”, even when we really are not. We may be hearing what the other person is saying – although that is not the same as really listening to them.

Really listening to someone involves concentrating on what the person speaking is saying and not thinking about anything else. There are three common traps you can fall into even when you really (initially at least) intend to listen to what is being said:

1) Mind reading: You’ve probably told someone close to you in the past – “I’m not a mind reader you know”, yet still from time to time we will think to ourselves “I know what they are going to say” before someone even begins to speak! What this usually results in is that you then hear what you expected to hear, rather than listening to what is actually being said.

2) Comparing: Sometimes while listening to someone’s explanation or reasoning, we may start thinking things like “well I wouldn’t have said that”, or “that’s not the way I would go about it”. The result of this is we only see it from our side, and we don’t really listen to the other person’s point of view or understand the full extent of what is being communicated.

3) Rehearsing: This is when you don’t really listen because after hearing the start of what someone is saying, you are already planning and rehearsing what you are going to say next. As a result, it’s easy to miss the real point of what the person is trying to say – again resulting in misunderstanding the communication. Stephen Covey, in his multi-million selling book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ sums this sort of behaviour very accurately when he states, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.

These three behaviours are easy to fall into if we don’t monitor what are we are doing. But if you are aware of these traps (and now you are) you can make a conscious effort to avoid them by looking out for them before they start to hijack your listening endeavours. In addition, you may want to brush up on your active listening skills by checking out the previous article in our knowledge centre entitled “It’s good to talk – but even better to listen!”. – And of course we provide far more information on this subject on our conflict management training courses.

We’ll end with a simple bit of wisdom from the ancient Greek sage and philosopher ‘Epictetus’:

“We have two ears and one mouth – so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”.