Listening is a powerful tool. When you genuinely listen to someone, you provide fertile ground for transparency to grow. And it is through that environment of listening and transparency that mutual understanding will flourish.
When you empathically listen to someone, without trying to manipulate them, you give the other person “psychological air” or “emotional oxygen.” You have met one of their deeply felt needs—the need to be understood.
Here are three practical ways to foster mutual understanding with the people in your life.
1. Don’t Assume
Do you make assumptions about the people in your life? When they open their mouth, do you already think you know what they will say? Do you think they are always going to say the same things? You may not think that you do that intentionally. But do your actions betray your attitude?
When your spouse says something, do you assume it will be a complaint? When your kids say something, do you assume that it won’t be worth listening to? As a result, do you pretend that you are listening to them? If so, they will be able to pick up on the fact that you are not really listening.
Be careful to jump to conclusions. You may be wrong about them and what they are trying to say. And you may be missing out.
2. Always Be Learning
How much time do you spend listening versus talking? If you asked someone else how much time you spend listening versus talking, what would they say about you?
I have realized in my life the hard way that I am not learning when I am talking. God made us to have two ears and one mouth. We should use them in proportion.
Take time to listen to somebody else, even if you don’t think you can learn anything from them. In fact, listen to them especially if you don’t think you can learn anything from them. You may be surprised by what you will learn.
3. Verify Your Interpretations
Even when you have listened to the other party, go back to Point #1: Don’t assume that you have heard them correctly. Take the time to share with them what you think you heard to verify that you correctly heard what they were trying to say. Then let them confirm what is accurate and correct what is not.
By showing that you genuinely want to understand them will demonstrate that you are someone they can trust. You will forge a path for mutual understanding.
By starting from a position of not assuming—by starting from a willingness to shift your paradigm—will start you on a good footing with any relationship. Then by making the effort to learn what the other party genuinely thinks and feels, you will encourage them to want to listen to what you have to say. And that will pave the way for mutual understanding.
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