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Be a World-Class Listener: Setting the Right Intentions for Listening

This lesson is a part of an audio course Be a World-Class Listener by Ben Butina, Ph.D.

In the first lesson of this course, you learned that most people aren't very good listeners, which you've probably already noticed in your life. Think about the last time you were talking to a friend about a problem, for example, and they cut you off in the middle of a sentence to offer you advice. Or, a time when you were trying to tell your boss about some issue at work, and they jumped right into problem-solving or decision-making before you could share all the relevant information. Or, how about this one, you're talking to a new acquaintance about something, and before you can even finish your sentence, they're offering their opinion, or trying to correct you, or telling you about how they are dealing with the same topic.

In all likelihood, they weren't intentionally being hurtful. They just didn't realize what they were doing. And whether you realize it or not, chances are pretty good that you do the same things, at least some of the time. We all do this because, well, we're all human beings, not robots. And, as human beings, we have our own agendas, and they effect how we listen to other people.

If your intentions are to solve the other person's problems right away, or get to a decision quickly, prove how smart you are, or to share your own problems and concerns, you're probably going to spend most of your time thinking about what you're going to say instead of listening to what the other person is trying to tell you. You're also likely to interrupt the other person while they're trying to talk. And the tricky thing is that you might have these agendas without even realizing it.

Now, you might think the solution to this problem is to get rid of your agendas altogether. In reality, that's almost certainly not going to work. Even if you had 20 years to go to a mountain-top and meditate and destroy your ego, you still probably wouldn't be able to pull this off because all human behavior is oriented toward meeting some need or satisfying some desire. You can't just get rid of your agenda for the same reason you can't just decide not to be hungry.

The solution is to use your agenda to help you become a better listener instead of letting it get in your way. The solution is to intentionally set an agenda to be a good listener.

And I'm going to suggest that if you really want to be an effective listener, you should set these two intentions:

First: I am going to learn. And, second, I am going to improve my relationship with the person speaking.

The first intention is to learn, and that's just what it sounds like. You're setting the intention to learn information from the other person. The second is to improve your relationship with the other person. In the last lesson, we talked about all that research about how effective listening can improve your relationships, so you want to own that as an intention.

If your intentions are to learn and to improve the relationship, you're going to be able to listen effectively, and the person speaking to you is going to feel heard.

And when I say you should set these intentions, I don't just mean that you should think about these ideas or keep them in the back of your mind. I mean that you should remind yourself of them before you begin listening to someone. That could be by repeating the intentions to yourself in your mind, "I am going to learn. I am going to improve my relationship with the person speaking." You could write those phrases down before you begin listening. You could even have them written down on a notebook or your phone's wallpaper and read them before listening. Use whatever method works for you, and feel free to change the words a little so that they feel more natural to you, as long as you don't change the meaning.

Setting an intention before listening to someone might not feel natural or comfortable at first, and that's okay. The whole point of this course is to become a world-class listener, and that means doing things differently than the way you've always done them.

Now that we've talked about setting the right intentions for listening, in the next lesson, we'll talk about setting up the right environment. You'll be surprised at how much difference that can make.

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Written by

Ben Butina, Ph.D.

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