Reading You’re not listening

I am reading the book “You’re Not Listening,” by Kate Murphy.

Start with curiousity

Early in the book the author mentions that most books on listening are written by coaches, consultants and people talking about listening more effectively to achieve a goal. Those books teach, according to Murphy, techniques that help us to listen.

However the risk involved in listening with a goal in mind is that this might bias the questions you ask and the process of actually listening. So the starting point in listening is to actually be curious about what people are saying and why they are saying it.

After that, the book does get into research and techniques on listening but, since it is written by a journalist, the quality of the writing is as important as the content. Murphy makes this book really easy to read with just the right amount of story telling and opinion to keep things engaging, combined with validating points by referring to research or authorities. I am enjoying reading a book on a topic that I have seen before and could find really boring.

Really engaging in the conversation

One difference between this book and some of the coaching books I have read is that the author suggest not parroting or even just paraphrasing what people say. Instead she suggests rephrasing the ideas in your own words and sharing views and ideas to engage in the conversation.

This seems to be good advice in that it helps create connection and to inspire the conversation. It also helps to encourage the other person by showing that you get them and value their thoughts.

The difference in coaching/therapy books like “Clean Language” is that in those books, the conversation is not really a conversation between two people. Instead it is a conversation that a person is having with themselves, supported by a thinking partner who helps them make sense of things. So a coaching conversation would end in either a NEW insight or clarity and commitment to the NEXT action to take.

This is something I will ponder – when is a conversation that follows a coaching arc and allows a person to really focus their thinking important and when is a real, authentic connection between to people important. Both help in coaching but I guess it is good to know which conversation you are in.

This also relates back to the goal of the conversation. So far, Murphy’s book has focused on keeping the conversation open without forcing it toward a destination.

This means that you, as listener, need to listen to what is said, while postponing your own thinking about how to respond or where to take things next. Murphy refers to the difference in thinking speed versus talking speed, meaning that we think faster than people talk. This is something I have often mentioned to people when I teach coaching (because it happens to me a lot) but not something I have seen in a book before.

For me, the danger of thinking ahead is that you can lose track of the conversation by assuming you know what is about to be said and why people are saying something. You can also start to form opinions and start talking about topics that were not actually in the conversation. Clearly you are not listening if you are having a new conversation that is not based on what the other person said.

I have done this myself quite often and I still remember my young daughter suggesting that we should “stay in the same thought bubble” when listening and talking rather than just jumping to new topics.

I am curious to see what else comes out of this book.


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