In a recent post I suggested that most of think that weâ€™re better listeners than others are. And, if you asked six people about that, youâ€™d likely get not just six answers, but six â€“or more â€“ opinions on the subject.
As I see it, we tend to have an Opinion Reflex. Nearly everything we hear prompts us to pull up our position on the subject â€“ based mostly on what we already know, or think, or feel. I suspect that we judge, evaluate and take sides almost automatically, maybe even before weâ€™ve heard the whole story. The Opinion Reflex is a powerful, overwhelming habit, one that can kill genuine listening, and therefore genuine conversation. Iâ€™d love to be a world-class listener all the time â€“ well, a lot of the time! â€“ but whenever that reflex takes over, forget it.
We often donâ€™t wait to be asked for our opinions, and while I donâ€™t suggest that we always need to do so, I do suggest that the Opinion Reflex crowds out listening. My point: Itâ€™s fine to express a point of view, but do we really want to set that on automatic? Who do we want to be in charge: us, or our immediate reactions?
To take command of our own Opinion Reflex, we might remind ourselves of a few things:
- We donâ€™t learn a thing while spouting off on what we already know.
- An unsolicited opinion is likely an unheard opinion.
- An opinion popped off with little thought ads equally little to the conversation.
Finally, we could turn on our curiosity switch before letting the Opinion Reflex kick in. We could say, â€œTell me more . . .â€ or â€œWhat do you think will come of that?â€ â€œHow did you get interested in this topic?â€ Steven Covey, the â€œ7 Habitsâ€ writer, suggested the habit of seeking to understand before seeking to be understood. Good advice that can result in better listening.