September 27, 2019 ~ 3 min read

Don't focus on your response

Weekly TipsListening

When listening to someone say something that you disagree with, it's super common to start thinking about how you're going to respond.

This is a mistake.

The moment you start thinking about your response, you've stopped listening to the person speaking.

Jumping to conclusions

The reason behind this is simple. We start working on our response is as soon as we hear a sentence or two because we think we know how things are going to go.

"I know this argument, we've been down this road before. Let me cut it off at the pass."

"Oh no, she's bringing up the dishes again. We've been through this... "

"He's asking for the impossible again, I've got to explain why we can't do it."

Once we think we know the way things are going, we instinctively start planning our response.

Rushed conclusions are faulty

The problem with this jumping to conclusions is we often are wrong about where the person we are listening to is going.

We draw a conclusion from the first two sentences and miss the next five where they were going in a completely different direction.

Or the words they use trigger us, but weren't what they meant at all.

Even in the rare case where we do correctly anticipate, we jump into our response so quickly that the person we're talking to doesn't feel heard.

Focus building and validating a mental model

Instead of focusing on how we're going to respond, focus first on understanding and building up a mental model.

Let your first responses be questions clarifying that mental model, and as the person you're listening to finishes check in for understanding.

This approach helps in three ways.

  1. Regardless of outcome, by checking in for understanding you will make the speaker to feel heard. Even if your response ends up being exactly the same, this will make a huge difference in how it is perceived.
  2. You can catch yourself early and keep yourself from misunderstanding. You'll still jump to conclusions early - we all do - but I find that almost 80% of the time once I listen to the entirety of someone's point my early conclusion was wrong.
  3. Your response will be more complete & effective. Instead of addressing the first 10% of what someone was saying, you can address their whole point. And having checked in for understanding, they will hear your response more easily because they know you're addressing what they were trying to say.

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Kevin Ball

Hi, I'm Kevin Ball (alias KBall). I'm a software engineer turned trainer and coach focused on communication and leadership skills. You can follow me on Twitter, or check out my software-focused work at