However, let me add that the simple skills they described at the beginning (not interrupting, saying "um-hum," and being able to repeat back), are still good to teach because they are better than what most people do much of the time.
Here's another HN link on listening: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12228062
Heck, merely not pulling your phone out is better than what most people do most of the time.
I don't doubt that there are teams out there filled with these types of people who magically understand each other and are always on the same page as if they had some sort of hive mind. I've heard of them, and it gets described as "good chemistry". I've just never experienced one of those teams myself where everyone can read the minds of other team members. For more average people, communication is a really important skill, and that includes not being annoyed by simple questions. Mind you, I can easily be annoyed by simple questions too. It's not like I'm good at this stuff either.
All of these things come under the general heading of 'active listening' and overall it just boils down to "actually be involved in the conversation and interested in the topic."
I have found in the past that paraphrased repetition can be all the other person is looking for out of the conversation. A stylized sketch:
A: Hey, I have this problem XXXX, I'm not sure what I should do about it.
B: Ok, the problem is YYYY [paraphrased]?
A: Thanks, that was really helpful.
Me: What's up with my daughter's really big head?
Doctor: It's a condition called "macrocephaly".
Somehow, that was reassuring to me, despite realizing that all he did was literally just transliterate my words to Latin—"macro" -> big, "ceph-" -> head—as if that added any novel information.
Doc: "well, when we see this thing, we're concerned it might be <1 min worth of big scary thing description>... but he doesn't have that."
Me: "Phew... so..."
Doc: "So then we're worried about <2 min worth of big scary #2>... but he doesn't have that."
Me: "Phew. hrmmm, so..."
Doc "So then we're worried about <big scary thing #3>..."
At which point I interrupted:
Me: "Doc, I realize there's a lot of big scary things. Does he have any of them?"
Doc: "No, I think he's fine, he just has a big head."
I think your version of that conversation was probably a lot more reassuring than mine.
endless aeons wheel and pass
Not that I'd ever had any contact with it, but wow, way to leave me hanging.
I can imagine the doc was trying to reassure you or head off questions s/he gets often by going through the litany of scary stuff ruled out. But maybe should not have buried the lede.
Also, for teaching, a lot of people need to do word-for-word first in order to learn how to really concentrate, then they can switch to paraphrasing.
In fact, I have found that a large portion of the population has a problem listening where their attention wanders away and they miss much of what is said, but they don't realize it and think they have heard it all. When you have them do word-for-word reflecting, they miss a lot of the content, and are shocked to realize their attention has wandered away, and indeed they have probably been doing this all their life, and they suddenly become very focused in their listening. It is quite something when you see this happen.
People understandably don't appreciate if you're parroting back to them what they said (even paraphrased) so that you can appear to be an "active listener".
The reason to repeat what someone said exactly (useful in case you legitimately just missed an important phrase) or paraphrase is because you didn't fully understand what they said and you genuinely want to understand the point. Asking follow-up questions to drive discovery and enjoyment is next.
Being a good listener is about being humble, respectful and present. Turns out that's easier said than done.
(edit: added link)
With people who have thick accents, the reason is probably obvious; but with fast talkers sometimes it's needed to process what the talker said.
For example, yesterday I had to repeat back on the phone because the other guy had a very thick accent and was on a speaker phone.
Usually, the people who repeat back to me are people who aren't native English speakers; or people who aren't technical and need to make sure that they understand a point. I appreciate it.
paulsutter didn't include a single thought from the parent nor paraphrased it - but the question and probing clearly made him a good listener! His question elicited a 4-paragraph response from Bahamut (who I would venture to say felt he was being listened to) whereas the other comments (that actively responded to the thought he expressed) did not result in any conversation.
If I am confident I understand what is being said, I will operate under the assumption of that understanding, and continue on the natural implications, or on occasion, rephrase what was said to verify if there are major consequences (especially something legally binding).
This approach highly depends on ability to trust (to a degree) though. If one is in a situation where one cannot trust the other person's intentions, then one must be on their guard and rely on their ability to parse a situation & come up with an approach (or delay immediate response before being able to conduct the necessary research in order to make a proper response or have a productive discussion if possible).
To borrow an idea from literature, it is generally better to show than to tell. There is utility to telling, but its utility is mostly in speedily conveying an idea (or ideas) in order to get to more important matters.
That's often the point of paraphrasing back what was said. I do this in cases of doubt, and often enough I learn my paraphrase was either incorrect or had the wrong emphasis.
I do it routinely enough that I often learn I was wrong when I had no doubts.
This technique does not seem to annoy people; quite the opposite. I'm sure it can be done badly - pure repetition rather than paraphrase would be senseless.l
Edit: upon further consideration, I think I do this when I notice there are multiple interpretations to a remark, or multiple factors at play (where I might think one is weighted 90%, but it could be 10%). I don't paraphrase things that are unambiguous.
Some people also believe that ambiguity and misunderstanding are not possible, and so checking on their meaning is a waste of time. They don't see the ambiguity, because they know what they mean. Even after several misunderstandings have occurred.
I've mostly had success with active listening, especially when someone is upset. It's reassuring to be given space.
On the other rare occasions... some people really do have issues. Or, maybe I'm doing it badly, not able to adjust to the situation, the specific words and the person. I honestly can't tell which predominates.
Finally, it makes a tremendous difference whether the participants have the same general background and specific context and perspective - on the same page. And whether they are aware of any differences.
1) The post feels patronizing.
2) Even if your post was right, you don't really say why someone should believe it, just that the alternatives are flawed. Why are they flawed? Because you think listening works differently.
3) Maybe this is superfluous, but I don't really believe what you say, and I suspect most people here are in the same boat. There probably is something to the idea that your circumstances affect your ability to listen, and meditating, or getting your life in order will make you better at it. But is it necessarily so absolute? I suspect you can listen well even if you have problems elsewhere in your life, and you can do things to try and pay attention here and now. Now, I haven't provided any reason to believe that, but since you didn't give any reason to believe your story either, I don't see reason much reason to abandon my belief.
Let n be the number of things the other is talking about (tricky to define a "thing" but, whatever?, use a consistent thing metric)
- O(1) listening: ignoring/may as well not be there - reading your phone while the other talks to you
- O(n) listening: loading their information into your brain while they talk - e.g. repeating back to them, nodding to salient points
- O(n log n) listening: sorting the information they've talked about - talking about the most important bits (after hearing everything)
- O(n^2) listening: cross-comparing all the things they've said for informational pairings
- O(|V|_n + |E|_n + |V|_m + |E|_m) listening: suppose your thoughts are laid out in network form, |V|_x and |E|_x are the # vertices and edges for person x. You are m. Then this is breadth-first search on both your idea-networks.
edit: I wonder how P and NP come into this! For instance, if someone asks you a question that takes P work, you should be able to derive the answer from what you've talked about alone. But if someone asks you something like, "Were you at that party 25 years ago?" and you have since forgotten, but then your other friend produces a photograph of you in a pair of silly glasses and a clown afro, you can verify quickly that you were! The hardness of remembering something might be classifiable by computational class?
If you manage to think of a good hash function for everything they say, you can use a hash table and cross-check every new thing they say in O(1), which makes the total complexity O(n).
Now that I think about it, I could totally see a cabal of professors hiring someone to be antagonistic as a teaching moment.
Salience: facts are more prominent from either highlighting or frequency.
Priming: Recently noted topics may be recalled with less effort.
Recency: Memories from more recent times are more readily accessible.
The brain had 4 seconds of echoic memory that it was already pattern matching against; For various "reasons" in the environment. Using this neurology, without further adaptation, we could have learned to identify generic structures in sounds. Languages are just trees encoded as sequences. For example, "the small brown fox ate the white rabbit" is the tree (ate (the (fox small brown)) (the (rabbit white))). The structural recognizer produces a simple hash-like value corresponding to a generic structure. The brain learns to calculate it from the meaning of words. It's the introspective association of these structures with brain states that's ultimately novel. Sequential processing and the state it requires evolved for other reasons. We can use this loose bundle of state for the individual "chunks" we hear. All we needed was the ability to manipulate and maintain recursively structured state. This is just a new meta-state for the generic tree superimposed on these "chunks". Notably, Nim Chimpsky can sign three word sentences. Nim apparently understands the tree (relationship this that). Though he can only form very simple structures; He seems to be utilizing his self awareness. Perhaps the spandrel is piggybacking on the ego. This works great for (eat Nim Banana) but ventures near deranged ambitions like (eat Nim Nim). His environment punishes anything exceeding basic executive function. He is actually extremely conscious when not compared to humans.
The first brains (Planarians) were sort of like jellyfish "brains". They were hardly more than nervous systems and produced no internally sequential cognition. Neural connections formed directed acyclic graphs. They computed referentially transparent functions over sensory input. Their construction was similar to combinational logic circuits. Concurrency was expressed in parallel structure's and not execution steps. Aside from neuroplasticity these brains didn't maintain state. In order for the brain to maintain state it needs a neurological cycle. Evolving such a thing is a very risky endeavor. Simple cyclical structures are liable to produce dangerous feedback; Like Nim's ambitions above. Every cycle takes a developmental and cognitive toll on the brain. It has to learn how to cope with each of them. New cycles must overcome this cost, by producing novel and sufficiently rewarding behavior, otherwise they die.
A stateless brain has a significant limitation. It can easily become stuck. Sensation (input) causes action (output) which reproduces identical sensation. Fixed points persist indefinitely without external intervention. This creates selective pressures for the adaptation of state cycles. The brain can instrument the body for signals like hunger and fatigue. This gives the brain more "external" interventions. But this won't relieve much pressure. The body's state is just the body's state. It isn't a general indication of when you ought to exit a fixed point. The brain can still become stuck and it's terribly expensive. Behaviors, regardless of potential reward, cannot risk entering a fixed point. Lets say a coconut might fall out a tree if you kick it. You can't try it or you'll just stand around kicking the same tree forever. State and sequential processing solve this problem. As an intermediate solution, behavior could be randomized using a noisy feedback loop. Carefully avoiding the brain's distaste for cycles it could then go on to become proper state. This can produce emotional states like boredom. Also basic executive functions like: kick it if you didn't just kick it. It takes a long time to evolve something as self directed as Nim. Then just a bit longer for Eve to bite the apple. Once invented, language would have imposed tremendous evolutionary pressure on the development of introspective state with increasingly sophisticated structure. Simple operational languages co-evolved into the sophisticated cultural languages we know today. This could explain most of what distinguishes our variety of intelligence from the other animal's.
"Indeed, I see no evidence, from neuroscience or any other field, that the cognitive information processing done by the brain is anything but classical." -- http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1951
Notably this is from a post discussing quantum effects as a potential explanation for consciousness. There's still no evidence for that either. Also, if true, it would only sit atop a classical cognitive process which acted as a turing machine. That or a horde of tiny turing machines.
Who says this can't be done in O(n log n)?
I think I just wrote it to induce my intuition in others, but you're right in saying that there's no proof that a brain operates with the same atomic instructions or architecture as I've pulled out of thin air above..
Just replace the "brains" in my post with "completely fictional abstract mechanistic brains whose behavior a human brain can emulate, hopefully not so far off from the qualia of The Real Thing." But I'm a big boy, and am all ears to PubMed-and-the-ilk articles that go into why I'm wrong!
I guess the point is, if you can sort of recognize these patterns of information process at a Very High Level Internal Logic and Monologue (tm? lol) in your experiences with consciousness - i.e. how would you explain how you thought internally from a premise to an answer - would it look much differently than this?
I doubt that the most pragmatic answer would include descriptions of the microsecond-level G-protein transactions, the millisecond tree diagram of where each synapse released how many vesicle molecules, how these were interpreted and then made sense of via an internal vocalization process, etc?
At the end of the day, how evidence based or proof based does arm-chair navel-gazing really need to be? :P
All tongue in cheek, of course. But maybe this discussion gives some people "intuition pumps" (ew, I just cited Dennett..) with which they'll make their own falsifiable claims that may even hopefully be worth sharing themselves.
And also when this happens to me I actually don't enjoy it. Propping up one sided conversations sucks, and I doubt that nearly as many people enjoy it as you're assuming.
As always, it depends on what the person needs. It seems like you are a person who needs others to answer back and you feel like you are "giving" and the other is "taking" if you are talking and they aren't.
Many feel the opposite. Listening is giving and talking is taking.
For a lot of people talking is much easier than listening. You just say whatever comes into your head.
Neither of you are more correct. Personally, I hate it when either person monologues. Both people talking is preferred. But that is just a preference.
That's not necessarily so. If you just sit there like a lemon while somebody makes words at you, then, sure, they're not likely to get a lot out of it, except perhaps slightly improved buccal muscle tone. You have it within your power to produce a more valuable result.
Always interrupt if you have something constructive to say in a casual/business conversation (unless you're in a debate), that's how you gain trust and credibility.
Very occasionally, the right response is to interrupt them impolitely. Much more often the best thing is to let them finish. It's an almost passive-aggressive solution, but sometimes it's the best you can do.
(you can ban me now. I won't regret this)
This is dangerous advice. Being perceived as someone who frequently interrupts is socially detrimental. As another commenter said, save it for when someone really makes it necessary, and converse with grace at all other times.
People label others with hostile things like "know-it-all" as a way of dealing with their own inferiority complexes.
How have you found it? I've thought about doing that myself from time to time, and I would value anything you'd like to share about your experience there.
People's problems can variate from light ones to very complex ones so it's very important to have the adequate mindset, keeping in mind what you are doing there (offering support by listening) and where are your limits. If not, the frustration can overcome you.
It's not free of trolls but I have rarely found them there and the majority of the people is very grateful just for boosting up their mood, which gives you a good feeling after finishing a conversation :)
Am I busy thinking about what I'm going to say when I get a chance?
The more the answer is "yes" the less listening a person is performing.
Or did you mean "being busy" as struggling to come up with anything worthwhile to say? Then I'd agree.
In fact easily coming up with follow up
questions that already come to one's mind
while listening is a strong indicator for
an engaging conversation.
If it is while another is speaking, then the listener is not engaged in listening due to considering their own response instead. IMHO, it's natural to make a "mental note" regarding a thought/topic while another is speaking and then present a considered response/question subsequently.
That is, "your thoughts, when told to me, made me have my own thoughts about the subject which, hopefully when I tell you, will make you think as well."
There are moments where I stop myself from interjecting during a quick pause, and rather politely wait for a long pause to add my viewpoint only for the conversation to have altered course to the point that I'd have to backtrack on a topic no one is talking about anymore. Something that is especially difficult to do when it's a group conversation.
To disengage the impulse to attempt to further/enrich the conversation has got to be a learned behavior, in my view.
This type of debate raises the question of what kind of conversation is best. Is just being listened to better than having a thoroughly-engaging convo? Depends on the person and the moment.
I'm a good listener, but not at the moment. After long days of programming and some lack of sleep I notice that my listening is going down. I really dislike this because I think now I'm faking to be a good listener.
As for a lot of things: rest and sleep is important.
Well, the vast majority of people are actually above average drivers. If you got into 0 accidents over the past year, then you are doing better than average.
(Similarly, most people have more legs than the average human)
My take on this is that most people DO have above average driving skills. However, that is using each persons INDIVIDUAL driving skills assessment criteria.
So a cautious person would say that they are above average because they are cautious while driving. Similarly an impatient person would say that they are above average because they make turning decisions fast and don't waste other's time. So the corollary is that individual people see that nearly everyone else is a worse driver than them, because they have different value systems.
Now, if some holistic measure was also skewed in a similar fashion, you would still be correct. But that would require further analysis to demonstrate.
'Average' -> Arithmetic mean
Mode < Mean in this case because the distribution is skewed to the left
TL;DR / Summary:
Listening is innate
Listening is not an active skill. Practicing it as such diminishes your ability to truly listen.
Listening is improved through improving your own peace of mind
One’s peace of mind is improved by doing good things. E.g. completing chores, being nice to people, doing things that reduce your regrets / guilt, etc.
DO NOT follow much of the incorrect advice given around active listening and traits of a good listener.
Listening is a special case of all using any sense, and the above advice applies similarly
The best way to test this is some kind of controlled experiment. But aint nobody got time for that.
I would say however, there is absolutely no need to take my word for it. I would actually recommend you don't. You can test this out for yourself. I would certainly recommend that. After all, it's more about what works for you.
No. It's about what works for the person to whom I'm listening, and my experience suggests at best an extremely limited role for a personal zen, however well polished.
Of course your experience is your evidence. And that is what I mean by "what works for you".
Someone could be perceived as a good listener because they put on a good show of listening and even ask questions in real time—but when you ask them about the conversation afterwards, they might have very little understanding of what was actually discussed.
Likewise, someone could be listening intently while doing a very poor performance of listening.
It seems to me that the key to listening is to actually be present and not half thinking about something else or what YOU want to say. Hard to do.
>> thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening,
This is not necessarily a question of "guilty". There are two major directions a conversation can go - "sympathy" or "solution". If your partner wants one, and you give the other, you operate under wrong premises due to an unstated assumption. On both sides.
(If your "guilty" was a request for sympathy, I'm currently failing majorly. :)
You could do worse than ask people what they want out of a conversation when you start the conversation.
People who contact me frequently to talk about something have come to understand this, and they just trust that I am being sympathetic, even if I am not showing all the signs. But for people who are not used to talking with me, they can sometimes find me unsettling and get upset at me. If someone could explain to me how to appear sincerely sympathetic in a way that makes sense to me, I'd love it. But nobody's ever been able to do that in a way that doesn't make me feel like I'd be pretending, which is awkward and weird, because it's not like I'm not sincerely sympathetic in my heart of hearts.
In fact just switching my default response to someone presenting a problem to: "that sucks" showed a marked improvement in interpersonal relationships for me.
It helps to remember that you aren't lying in this; the feeling is real, only the performance is (temporarily) synthetic, and you're doing it to help your interlocutor feel safe and comfortable in the conversation, which in turn makes it more likely you will be able to help them. It will feel fake for a while, and you'll need to keenly observe reactions to know when you've got it dialed in. Eventually it becomes second nature and the feeling of fakeness goes away.
If someone could explain to me how to appear
sincerely sympathetic in a way that makes
sense to me, I'd love it.
I'm an analytical person and am genuinely interested in
what you have to say. If you'd like to hear possible
solutions I can think of, then they would be with the
intent of trying to help. If not, I'm here to listen.
Perhaps the example I provided was not appealing to you, which is entirely understandable.
> I'm good at having sympathy (not always empathy), but I'm not good at expressing it.
He wants to be better at expressing the sympathy he feels. That's why I said that, even though it feels fake at first, stick with it and model yourself after what you see other people do, and over time it will become quite natural. This is the same process by which humans learn almost all social behavior; it's just relatively rare to do it as an adult, when consciousness and introspection are fully formed and the concept of sincerity discovered.
The problem with the example you provided is not that it didn't appeal to me; I can understand where you're coming from with it, and I appreciate its sincerity. The problem I have is that that statement is not fit for purpose. In almost any case, it's not a tool which will work.
When I participate in this kind of conversation, I do so expressly because it's an opportunity to help someone. In order to accomplish that goal, it is necessary that my interlocutor be comfortable enough to open up and share the kind of information I need to fulfill the role I've chosen for myself in that context. In order for that to occur, I need to meet that person where he is. As I said, I understand and appreciate the nature of your proposed statement - but I also understand that most people are not like us, and not the sort of person with whom a such a bald statement ("Message: I care") is going to resonate.
So it's going to be very rare that a statement like that will serve the purpose I require of it, which in turn means that, if I use it, I will fail at something into which I've decided it is worth investing considerable time and effort toward succeeding.
My initial analysis suggested that, in order to make it possible for people to be comfortable enough with me that I might have a meaningful probability of being able to help them by any means, it would be necessary to develop a great deal of social fluency. So I did that. Then I went looking for ways in which I could deploy it to the benefit of others, and I found them. I'm still nowhere near as good at that as I intend eventually to become, but retrospective analysis suggests that even the moderate degree of skill I've developed in that regard has enabled me to produce a net positive emotional impact on the people around me - perhaps marginal for the most part, but demonstrable nonetheless, and showing a distinct if modest upward trend.
But I've put a lot of work into it, too, and it is not quite accurate to say that I'm the same person I was when I started. You might want to put some thought into whether that's something you feel is worth your while.
I hope you'll decide that it is. I've chosen to make a vocation of creating for other people, for a little while, a world to live in in which, sometimes, someone just cares. If you decide to do the same, it increases the chance that someday someone will do that for me. And there are days when I could really use it.
Another thing is to describe what seems to be the heart of the problem, like "you want to trust him, but you aren't sure it's a good idea."
Also, once the person feels like they have expressed themselves and been well-heard, that may be all they want. But other times they then move on to a solution, either on their own or are interested in your ideas.
1. I absolutely provide feedback about what I think I heard. One common technique is versions of "I think I understood you to say X, Y and Z. But I have question A, and whatever you said that sounded vaguely like B flew totally over my head."
That kind of thing boosts my understanding in a hurry. And the other party usually seems to appreciate it.
2. It's a cliche' in consulting that whatever question the client asks isn't the question they should be asking, or the most important one that's on their mind. So you have to get somehow from the stated question to the real one. In some consulting relationships, that can take days or weeks, and you'll still have done a great job. But in others you need to do it pretty much on the spot, in the same part of the same conversation that the question was originally asked.
3. If you feel you interrupted too much, then stop and invite the person to repeat themselves uninterrupted. I believe that I am usually forgiven when I do that.
If the case is someone issuing orders, particularly in a critical situation, then yes, you want people to follow attentively, acknowledge the statements, and recall them, correctly, as they apply them.
If you're having a casual conversation with friends, you're looking to, generally, build rapport and mutual cohesion. It's active listening (or more, mutual conversation), but the focus is often lacking -- things can wander.
If you're hashing through (or reviewing) ideas with someone, or a small group, then the highly focused form of interactive participation described is appropriate. Where it's successful -- where people have sufficiently common experience to follow the discussion, but sufficiently divergent to be able to suggest productive directions, and the participants are engaged and committed to supporting the conversation rather than scoring points, torpedoing it, or bolstering some ideology, then that conversational magic can happen.
I suspect an Anna Karenina principle is at play -- good conversations are all good in the same (or at least strongly similar) ways. Bad conversations are each bad in their own way.
I've had the experience of the mistaken interrupter -- the person who tries to finish your thoughts ... but is always wrong (there's a YouTube video of this I saw recently, it's very much as infuriating in real life as the video makes out). I've known people who cannot follow a conversation at all -- it's somewhat like leading a small child along, and prodding them. Not only do you have to point them in the right direction every few feet, but they're wandering off in some utterly incorrect (and inexplicable) direction when you don't do so. In one case, this seems related to an inability to form a correct model of what's happening in other people's minds (or having any idea that such a model might be useful).
There's lack of familiarity with material, there's prior beliefs and knowledge which aren't correct. There's inability to draw connections or inferences (often accompanied by anger or frustration when prompted or coached to try doing so).
Fascinating things, minds.
This article appears to be written by people who are not capable or interested in caring about what other people are saying. They techniques they described are phony. Good listeners are never phony.
If you're trying to convey important information and the listener just doesn't seem to get it, ask yourself whether you are expecting them to engage in a higher, more demanding level of listening than they are currently able to.
For example, the article says that 80% of what most people try to communicate occur at Level 4: body language. But if you can convey at least some of that information verbally, you'll be able to achieve similar results even if the listener is only at Level 3. This is especially useful if the listener is on the other side of a phone call or an internet forum.
"Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight."
This might be related to why group brainstorming doesn't result in good ideas as often we think:
Sounded strange to me, so here's some background:
Proto-Indo-European had nine noun cases, three genders, and no regular verbs at all.
Can we just stop using the word "listening", which was never appropriate for this context, instead of debating/evaluating its meaning?
It provides examples of the kind of active listening and questioning mentioned in the article.