Discovery Listening Skill 2: Summarize the Other Person
By Gary Smalley
The essence of drive-through listening allows you to avoid the trap of misunderstanding. The best way to summarize is not to "repeat" every word like a tape recorder, but to break down bits of what you're hearing your mate say into bite-sized pieces, then to paraphrase to your mate these pieces when they're finished with each statement.
Begin by saying "What I hear you saying..." or "You're feeling that..." or "You are wanting..." Then, summarize what you think he or she is trying to tell you without coloring your response with your own interpretations.
You're honoring your mate by allowing him or her to be the final authority on what he or she is saying. Here is where I saw my wife Norma really use this method. A businessman was climbing all over me during a conference call, making what I considered to be unfounded allegations, which immediately set me off on the all-too-typical rout of rage. I was just about ready to begin verbally punching, when Norma began using her drive-through listening skills.
Norma started paraphrasing everything the man was saying. She was calm and direct. "Is this what you are saying...?" she would say. He would respond and say more, and she just kept summarizing and restating what he was saying until he stopped and calmed down. Even I calmed down! It was amazing. Then she suggested a solution, completely based on how she had listened to his concerns. He liked the solution because she had really concentrated on his words and understood his needs in this situation. There's not a week that goes by that we don't use this method at work with someone.
Now, what do you do if what your speaker is saying is too long to summarize? Merely hold up your hand to stop and say something like, "Please let me understand you." Then paraphrase what you've heard up to this point. I understand that this process may seem a bit infantile at first, but could it be any more childlike than blowing up or storming out? You might think paraphrasing what your mate is saying tells your mate that you haven't heard what he or she has said, but this is just conditioning. The conventional view is to let the speaker drone on until finished - or to combat at every turn. But allowing your mate to ramble only leads to confusion and conflict.
So summarize what you hear your mate saying every couple of sentences without adding your own interpretations. Then, allow your mate to agree or disagree with what you've told him or her you've heard. Your mate may correct you! Or your mate might say, "That's right. That's exactly what I mean." This is what you're seeking - the "That's right!" response. Sometimes, your summary will result in your mate's understanding what he or she is trying to say more clearly. Your listening becomes a gift through which your mate can actually understand more about him- or herself or discover a deeper issue that the words are trying to convey.
If this happens, if your mate even expresses shame or shock about what he or she has said and how you've heard it, then your mate may begin questioning him or herself, asking, "How could I have allowed this to happen?" When these questions arise, don't answer or lecture them! Continue to listen and to paraphrase and restate what you've heard. This gives the speaker the opportunity to answer his or her own questions and show you the inner terrain of his or her heart.
Always remember: your rapt attention is more encouraging than anything you can say.
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