Most of us believe we accurately hear what’s been said. But given our historic brain circuits that translate incoming sound vibrations subjectively and out of our awareness, it’s difficult to be certain that what we think we heard is accurate. It is possible, however, to at least know what our tendencies are.
When I wrote my book WHAT? I discovered that words don’t enter brains as anything more than ‘puffs of air’ that go from sound vibrations into signals that get translated automatically by electro-chemical circuitry: what our brains tell us was said is merely our brain’s translation of historic signals.
Unwittingly, we end up interpreting meaning according to we’ve interpreted before and new incoming data often gets misunderstood or mistranslated because there aren’t appropriate circuits to translate it. Obviously, there’s a good chance we’re biasing a lot of what we hear.
To help you understand how, if and when you uniquely (and unwittingly) bias what you hear, I’ve developed an assessment tool. Once you have a baseline knowledge of your unconscious choices you’ll know what areas to pay specific attention to and if you need to add new skills.
PART 1: When do you take extra steps to ensure you accurately hear what your Communication Partner (CP) intends?
Directions: Check off any that apply.
_When I’m with my partner/spouse (i.e. all the time).
_When I’m having a disagreement with my partner/spouse.
_When I’m trying to clean up a problem/misunderstanding.
_Only when it’s someone I care about.
_I don’t take extra steps. I just assume I hear the message as intended.
_When something important is at stake in my life and I need to know the Other’s takeaway.
_When I’m aware I don’t understand someone.
_When I have a message I want to impart and want to make sure I’m being understood as I prefer.
_When communicating with someone of a different culture, background, and I’m not certain we’re mutually understanding each other. But I sometimes do nothing about it because I don’t know what to do differently.
Are there times it’s especially important to ensure you hear what your CP intends to convey?
_When the conversation is going badly.
_In all business-related, profit-related conversations, or where I’m getting paid.
_ In all/some conversations related to my spouse or family.
_No. I prefer to accurately understand what’s said in every conversation and am usually successful.
_I prefer to accurately understand all of my CPs but not sure that I do.
Take a moment to think about your responses in all of the above and answer the following questions, in writing, as a summary.
- Are there specific times you regularly take responsibility, take extra steps, to make sure you hear your CP accurately?
- Why are you more comfortable with your natural listening skills in some situations than in others? Are there patterns to when you have misunderstandings?
- Are you fully aware of the outcomes of all of your conversations, and generally assume that everyone understands each other accurately?
- How do you know if you’ve accurately understood someone?
PART 2: Do you know your communication biases?
Directions: assess your predispositions as a communicator on each of the following. Check off the ones that apply:
When I enter into a conversation, I enter with
_An ‘ear’ that listens according to my history with that person.
_An unconscious/conscious agenda of what I want from the conversation.
_ A need to be perceived in a specific way or to impart the message I want.
_An ability to enter each conversation without bias, with a mental ‘blank slate’.
_The needs of the Other in mind at the expense of my own.
_My beliefs about what this person might need from me given his/her background.
_An understanding that my unconscious biases might keep me from fully understanding so I regularly check that me and my CP are on the same page.
_ No conscious thought. I just assume I’ll hear what’s intended and respond appropriately, regardless of how different my CP might be from my own cultural experience.
During a conversation I
_Might get annoyed by something said due to my own preconceptions and history.
_ Assume I have the skills to recognize when there’s a misunderstanding and make things right if there is a problem.
_Notice when my CP is responding differently than I intended and say something to get us on the same page.
_Notice when my CP is responding differently than I intended and I say nothing.
_Don’t notice if my CP is responding differently from the message I’m sending and don’t know if I’ve hurt/annoyed them.
_Work hard at maintaining a ‘blank slate’ in my brain to listen through.
_Just be me, because I know I’m not biased and I listen accurately.
_Am aware I may not be speaking, listening, or responding in ways that regard the differences of my CP but don’t do anything to speak, listen, or respond differently than normal.
_Would prefer I’m not saying anything disrespectful, or hearing with unconscious biases, but I’m not sure if I know how to do this.
_Would prefer I’m respecting my CP but have done nothing to learn new skills to be able to speak or listen to match another’s unconscious cultural assumptions.
PART 3: Do you have the choices you need for an unbiased communication?
Directions: Please write down the answers to these:
If you don’t consider how accurately you hear what others intend to say (as distinct from what you think you hear) during a conversation, what you would need to know or believe differently to make this part of each communication? To think specifically if responses are congruent, if communication lines are balanced, if both CPs speak about the same amount of time and follow the same topic?
If you don’t know for certain if you’re hearing without bias, or if you’re listening with a ‘beginner’s mind’ to lessen your unconscious biases, what has stopped you until now from taking steps or learning new skills to listen without bias?
If you don’t know for certain if something you think you heard is inaccurate, what do you do to check? What stops you from stopping the conversation and asking?
How can you tell if your CP is understanding YOU accurately and without bias? Do you have the skills you need to monitor and manage this?
PART 4: Whose responsibility is a shared understanding?
Directions: Answer Yes or No for each of the following:
_I believe it’s the Sender’s responsibility to send her message properly to match the needs of the Receiver.
_I believe there’s a shared responsibility between CPs to understand each other; both are equally at fault if there’s a misunderstanding.
_I believe it’s the Receiver’s responsibility to hear what the Sender is saying, and tell the Sender when there is confusion or misunderstanding.
_I formulate a reply as soon as I hear something that triggers a response in my head, regardless of whether or not the person has finished sharing their ideas.
_I know I’ve been heard when someone responds according to my expectation.
_I know I’m hearing another’s intended message accurately when I feel comfort between us.
_If I disagree with my CP’s dialogue, I interrupt or show my disagreement without asking for an explanation.
_If I disagree with my CP’s dialogue I allow her to complete her message before sharing my disagreement.
_I try to listen without my biases and respond to what has been said, but I’m aware I probably can’t understand because of our differences. But I’ve not taken steps to learn how to listen without biases.
_If I have an idea to share that’s different from my CP’s topic, I just change topics.
_When I don’t understand my CP’s response to what I said, I just keep going or try to say something better.
_My responses conform to what I think I heard and I don’t check.
_I respond to what I think was said and don’t consider I might have biased and misinterpreted what I heard.
Understanding the message
_When I don’t understand someone, I can tell immediately and ask for clarification.
_I rarely think it’s me when there is confusion during a conversation and take no action, assuming it will work itself out.
_I can tell I’ve misheard/misunderstood when I get a negative reaction or a confused look.
_I can tell I’ve misheard only when I hear my CP say ‘WHAT?’ or ‘I don’t understand’ after my response.
_I cannot tell if I’ve misunderstood or misheard, and respond according to what I think I heard.
_I don’t know how to listen differently to people who are different from me and just respond like I do in any conversation.
_I assume I understand Others who speak English, regardless of our differences.
_As soon as I realize I have misunderstood someone, I ask her to repeat what she said so I can understand her message.
_When I realize I’ve misunderstood, I assume they aren’t being clear.
_When my CP tells me I misunderstood him I know it’s not my issue because I know I hear accurately.
_When my CP tells me she thinks I misheard, I ask what I missed so I can get it right.
_I can’t tell if I’ve misunderstood someone, and aren’t aware if there are negative consequences to my repsonses.
_I use my normal communication skills in all conversations regardless of cultural differences.
When you’re done, please write a paragraph on what you discovered.
Now, write a paragraph on this whole assessment experience. What did you take away? What do you need to do differently? Write down a plan to move forward in a way that will help you hear what others say with the least possible bias.
How did you do? Are you willing to make changes where you need them? Do you know how to make changes? Did you find areas you’d like to have more choice? Were you able to notice your predispositions?
It’s important to notice where you find yourself resisting change as those are the exact areas in which you might occasionally mishear or misunderstand. Determine if you want to continue your current patterns and don’t mind the cost of being wrong some of the time.