Entrepreneur: Kristen Quirk
Title: Transformational Coach & Inspirational Speaker
We all have superpowers. Some come naturally to us, while others take time, focus and commitment to develop.
One superpower is found so rarely, though, that those who recognize its value and learn how to implement it well inevitably stand out in crowded, competitive market spaces and in relationships of all kinds.
Author and effectiveness expert Stephen Covey addressed it when he said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to respond.”
Therein lies the opportunity, and the superpower. Here are four reasons listening for understanding is one of the greatest skills you can develop.
It’s different. As Covey observed, most of us have not made the conscious commitment to listen for understanding. More often than not, what passes for listening looks like this: hearing words or concepts at a surface level, picking up a fraction of what is said, assuming the rest, and then shifting mental resources to our own opinions on the subject and how best to express them. That makes it all about us. So, when we choose to listen for understanding, we show the person who is speaking — via our actions, focus and energy — that we are present, paying attention and ready to be responsive to what is important to them. Given how uncommon this type of interaction is, it tends to stand out from the multitude of “ordinary” encounters folks have and causes them to take notice.
It feels good. Specifically, people feel heard, recognized and validated as human beings. When that happens, deeper connections are made, trust begins to form and relationships transform. Listening is like a soothing balm. It sends messages to the mind, emotions and nervous system of the other person along the lines of You matter, You’re not alone and It’s all OK. At that point, not only is that individual more likely to open and share authentically, but they are also less likely to shut down or adopt a defensive posture. It’s like walking through an open door in relationship rather than facing a closed one.
It enables you to be more effective. A funny thing happens when we practice the art of listening for understanding. We start to pick up on the cues and clues that are offered not only in what — and how — something is said, but also in what is not said. We become attuned to connecting with the true meaning or essence of what is shared apart from the mere words. And, if given the opportunity, many people will talk freely about what they want, how they feel, what outcome they desire from a particular situation and even how they’d like it implemented. Essentially, they will provide a road map to follow. So, if we’re paying attention, we get all the information necessary to create positive experiences for others. This is one way go-to professionals meet their clients’ needs so well, and even anticipate them.
There is a caveat to offer here. Like all superpowers, listening for understanding can be used for good or for ill. When utilized with the intention to arrive at the best outcome for everyone involved, it can be a powerful force that uplifts, empowers and connects. However, when it’s used to manipulate or serve a particular agenda, it can be destructive and hurtful. So be sure to utilize your newfound superpower for good.
There certainly are complementary skills that are important to develop — communicating effectively, having compassion for ourselves and others, fostering growth and contribution, and more. But listening for understanding is a superpower so fundamental to well-being, and so infrequently implemented, that making the effort to hone it will reap multiple benefits for you personally and professionally.
Kristen Quirk is a transformational coach who helps professionals and spiritual seekers explore what it means to know themselves better, love themselves more and share from the heart. Kristen hosts the Being and Doing Now podcast and blog, and she is passionate about continually finding ways to connect more deeply with life, humans, animals and nature.