The deepest need of the human heart is to be understood.

Everyone wants to be respected and valued for who they really are – a unique, one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-cloned (at least for now) individual. People won’t expose their soft centers unless they feel genuine love and understanding.

To understand someone you must listen to them…and Surprise! The problem is that most of us don’t know how to listen.

When people talk we seldom listen because we’re usually too busy preparing a response, judging or filtering their words through our own paradigms. It is so typical to use one of these five poor listening styles:

1. Spacing Out

This is when someone is speaking to us but we ignore them because pour mind is wandering off in another galaxy. We all zone out from time to time, but do it too much and you’ll get a reputation for being out of it.

2. Pretend Listening

This is more common. We still aren’t paying much attention to the other person, but at least we pretend we are by making insightful comments at key junctures, such as, “yeah,” “uh-huh,” “cool,” or throwing in an, “lol” here and there when you’re chatting online. The speaker will usually get the hint and will feel that he or she is not important enough to be heard.

3. Selective Listening

This is where we pay attention only to the part of the conversation that interests us. For example, your friend may be trying to tell you how it feels to be in the shadow of his talented brother in the army. All you hear is the word, “army” and say, “Oh yeah, the army! I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately.” Since you’ll always talk about what you want to talk about, instead of what the other person wants to talk about, chances are you’ll never develop lasting friendships.

4. Word Listening

This occurs when we actually pay attention to what someone is saying, but we listen only to the words, not the body language, the feelings, or the true meaning behind the words. If you focus on words only, you’ll seldom be in touch with the deeper emotions of people’s hearts.

5. Self-Centered Listening

Self-centered listening happens when we see everything from our own point of view. Instead of standing in another’s shoes, we want them to stand in ours. This is where sentences like, “Oh, I know exactly how you feel” come from. We don’t know exactly how they feel, we know exactly how we feel, and we assume the feel the same way we do. Self-centered listening is often a game of one-upmanship, where we try to one-up each other, as if conversations were a competition. “You think your day was bad? That’s nothing. You should hear what happened to me.” When we listen from our point of view, we usually reply in one of three ways, all of which make the other person immediately close up. We judge, we advise, and we probe.

Genuine Listening

There’s a higher form of listening, fortunately, which leads to real communication. It is called, “genuine listening.” It’s the kind of practice we want to put to use, but to do genuine listening, you need to do three things differently:

1. Listen With Your Eyes, Heart and Ears

Listening with just your ears isn’t good enough, because only 7 percent of communication is contained in the words we use. The rest comes from the body language (53 percent) and how we say words, or the tone and feeling reflected in our voice (40 percent). In other words, to hear what other people are really saying, you also need to listen to what they’re not saying.

2. Stand In Their Shoes

To become a genuine listener, you need to take off your shoes and stand in another’s. In the words of Robert Byrne, “Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins you can’t imagine the smell.” You must try to see the world as they see it and try to feel as they feel.

3. Practice Mirroring

Think like a mirror. What does a mirror do? It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t give advice. It reflects. Mirroring is simply this: Repeat back in your own wordswhat the other person is saying and feeling. Mirroring is a great way to help you discover what the other person in the conversation is really thinking or feeling.

Remember, there is a time and place for genuine listening. You’ll want to do it when you’re talking about a sensitive issue, like if one of your employees or friends really need your help or if you’re having a communication problem with a loved one.
Be patient, these conversations take time, they can’t be rushed. Show you care, show you are genuine and sincere. Seek first to understand and you will see how much stronger your relationships will become.