Part of walking around in someone else’s skin, in their experience, requires knowing what their experience is in the first place.
This is where active listening comes in.
Why We Don’t Listen Well
Like empathy, itself, active listening is a conscious process.
You can’t leave your ears open and turn your brain off and assume that, just by nodding along, you are honing your listening skills.
Business relations are fueled by the powerful psychological tool of active listening.
Because active listening results in mutual understanding.
Think of your last face-to-face conversation.
Do you recall what your conversation partner spoke about? In how much detail could you relate what they said?
If your account recalls more of your side of the conversation than theirs, you may want to ask yourself two questions:
1) Are you talking more than listening?
2) Are you even listening when you’re not talking?
We are often distracted while in conversation, splitting our attention between thinking about what we will next share and listening.
Particularly when the dialogue is more of a debate, we tend to turn our ears off, as we’re more focused on formulating our response than we are in taking in another’s conflicting point of view.
Assumptions are made, because we’ve all heard the “talking points” before. So, whether or not the other is making a new and interesting point, we assume they’re rattling off old news.
The focus, then, is on winning the argument.
But the argument would be much more constructive if both parties opened their ears.
The Structure of Active Listening
When active listening, your focus should be on the speaker.
Put down your phone, look directly at the speaker, turn the part of you off that is already formulating your argument, and really listen to what the speaker is saying.
If you are multitasking or otherwise distracted, you aren’t giving your full attention and consideration to your partner.
The speaker should also be aware that they’re being heard.
One way to show you’re listening is to repeat what the speaker has said back to them in a way that recounts what you’ve picked up.
For instance, the speaker is sharing a personal issue with you. After listening to their issue in its entirety without interrupting, you might respond, “So, if I understand correctly, you’re saying…” followed by a summary of what you’ve been told.
You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying; but in reformulating what you’ve heard in your own words, you are validating their perspective in that you’ve listened with focus and fully understood them.
It also helps you, as the listener, switch perspective.
Sometimes you’ll find your own cultural framework has made you misinterpret something.
By repeating, the speaker can see that you didn’t quite understand them and clear up their perspective, making this communication more effective.
- Open Up
When in cultural conflict, one is often defensive and refuses to see their opponent’s situational perspective.
Our natural instinct is to then not listen at all and only to have our voices heard.
We lash out and might even get personal, which is not effective in bridging the divide.
Active listening combats that, making both parties feel heard and allowing people to open up.
A solution is more likely to be arrived at through active listening than through combative conflict.
Through empathy and the tools we’ve discussed over the past few weeks, you’ll be able to better communicate and deal with conflict cross-culturally.