Do you know an autobiographical listener?
Most people who listen, also want to get their point across. Autobiographical listeners tend to prioritise their own point, which means they hear only certain parts of your conversation or focus only on the words you say whilst missing the meaning entirely.
As they listen, they are preparing what they are going to say in their reply and the questions they are going to ask you. They filter everything they hear through their own agenda, their life experiences and their values. They are always checking what they hear against their own autobiography and assessing how it measures up.
Consequently, they may decide what you mean before you've finished and, over time, you may wonder whether it's worth your effort to talk to them anymore. After all, what's the point in talking to someone who doesn't really listen?
Autobiographical listeners tend to respond in one of four ways:
- Evaluating: Listening with confirmation bias - judging what you're saying and then either agreeing or disagreeing with you.
- Interrogating/probing: Asking questions from their own frame of reference, rather than trying to understand yours.
- Advising: Giving you unsolicited advice and solutions to problems.
- Interpreting: Analysing you based on their own experiences - and often coming to wrong conclusions.
They might be saying, "Hang on! I'm just trying to connect to you by drawing on my own experiences. What's wrong with that?"
In some situations, autobiographical responses may be appropriate, for example, when you specifically ask for help from the other person's point of view or when there is a very high level of trust in the relationship.
Most people, like you, just want to be heard - as separate to the other person - as someone who is different to the other person, as someone who wants to connect to the other person whilst still maintaining their own values and beliefs.
So, how can we listen to our sons, daughters, partners, parents, friends, work colleagues or clients in a way that they feel valued and heard for being themselves?
What is active listening?
Active listening best expresses the three helping attitudes of understanding, acceptance and genuineness. This can feel like a gift of time, it encourages us to talk more. If there are no judgements (and few interruptions), we will have the space to explore and understand the feelings we are experiencing.
It's the right environment to go deeper into ourselves, to find out what's bothering us and what we want to do about it. The real value of being listened to well, is that we can hear ourselves talk.
But listening is the art that must be developed, not a technique that can be applied as a monkey wrench to nuts and bolts. It needs the full and real presence of people to each other. It is indeed one of the highest forms of hospitality.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
Who could you provide with this 'highest form of hospitality'? Your partner, child... maybe your client? How would life be better if everyone around you listened in this way?
Active listening is a very powerful tool for change - it empowers the person with the problem to find the solution. It is also the foundation of all strong relationships. It repairs, builds and maintains relationships for everyone.