“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ―Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Deliberately cultivating the intent to understand rather than to reply is the key to effective listening. This is an appealing thought, but what does it mean, really? And how do you go about developing this uncommon ability.
One difference between the two is that the intent to reply only leads you to hear what you want to hear, while the intent to understand allows you to hear what you need to hear. A second difference is that you are much less likely to interrupt or talk over another if you are truly listening with the intent to understand. When you listen with the intent to reply you’ll find it hard to hear anything beyond the point at which you agree or disagree, as the case may be.
But rather than bore you with clichés about the importance of listening, I would like to suggest to you that the ability to listen with the intent to understand is more about your relationship with truth than it is with your fellow human beings. The truth of the matter, of any matter, transcends human opinion. As such, when you listen to others, you should be more concerned with how what they are saying squares with truth than you are with how what they are saying jibes with your speculative theories on truth, life or love.
All human conflict and misery springs from the failure to orient in love and the subsequent inability to find agreement in truth. The world we have is more the product of retorts and ripostes – the unfortunate by-products of the intent to reply – than it is of the intent to understand. Change this one point of misaligned intent in yourself…and you will change the world.