Prioritize understanding over being understood

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen Covey


I was chatting recently with a girlfriend when I noticed that neither one of us could complete a sentence. I would start a story and she would jump in when my pause was just a smidgen too long. Sometimes she would interrupt me mid-sentence and guess the completion of my thought (usually inaccurately).

I returned the favor with similar tactics. My bad behavior came in the form of subtly redirecting the conversation back to my story and the points I wanted to make. This was most easily accomplished coming off a mutual laugh.

Both of us were guilty of speaking over each other. This wasn’t the result of we’re-so-excited-we-can’t-get-the-words-out conversation (all bets are off in those moments); it felt more like a wrestling match.

Besides having a disjointed and awkward conversation, I came away with a couple of questions:

How did we establish this habit in the first place?Was she competing with me to be heard or was I competing with her?

(I skipped past the obvious question of why anyone would want to talk to me!)

Why are we acting like children, scraping to be heard?

Though I’d like to think this exchange is limited to this one relationship, I can’t swear that I don’t behave this way in many conversations. Perhaps this is a blind spot which is slowly creeping into my peripheral vision, and it really bothers me.

I’ve been mulling the dynamic over, trying to sort out the “why” behind the behavior, and I’m 98.3% positive I don’t know.

Still, this soul-searching has lead me to a more relevant thought which is, how do I reset the dynamic with my behavior?

The good news - I think I have the answer. The bad news – I don’t like it.

The solution: be more interested in understanding than in being understood.

When you want to understand, your behavior shifts in tangible ways:

you listen more than you speak you ask follow up questions you stay focused you don’t plan your reply you drop your agendas you care more about their deal than your own

When that happens, interruptions from my mouth all but disappear.

Oh my. I have a long way to go.