Listening from others perspective

Shifting our ‘FOR’

Being involved in the behavioural field over many decades I considered myself accomplished at modifying my frame of reference (FOR) to meet the needs of others. I thought that I could see the world from their perspective and in many instances it appeared to work until recently.

I have had a very interesting couple of months in which my wife and I have been travelling with friends around Europe. We have known both sets of friends for many years and stayed with them at their homes which led us to think that we knew them. However, it was soon obvious that our knowledge of them was somewhat limited by the narrowness of our experience with them.

There is a saying that “travel broadens the mind” and I would certainly subscribe to this in terms of gaining a much better understanding of our friends. We soon found that our preconceptions about what our friends would like about eating and travel were on target and some were wide of the mark.

Value in learning to reframe

I have come to learn over time of the value of attempting to appreciate how a person I am interacting with sees their ‘world’. By observing them over time I am able to perceive what they need and in many instances this has worked very well for me and the other person. However, the experience of travelling with different friends, one from Australia and the other couple from New Zealand provided me with many new insights. The major difference was in being with them in different environment from either my home or theirs and for a number of weeks. I now have a much better appreciation of how I frequently change my behaviour when in new surroundings even with people I know. This equally applies to my friends who took risks with their travel and meals that were very different from what I had perceived from my experience with them.

The major reinforcing that took place was to recognise that when I build a FOR on a client or friend I need to be much more aware of the environment. The more familiar it is to the people I am interacting with it is natural that they will feel more at ease. This will influence their behaviour and thus what I observe will be very much associated with where they are comfortable. Take them out of their natural environment and I am much more confident in recognising that their behaviour could be quite different. The travelling experience was a timely reminder to be aware of the influence of the environments in which our meetings and interactions took place in shaping a FOR.

Is thinking about a person’s FOR worth the effort?

I am frequently surprised by how many people who only see the world from their own perspective and hold on to this irrespective of the evidence or advice they receive. Only yesterday I needed to travel into town using the local bus service. A lot of road repairs are underway near the railway station and I had recently made the journey to discover that the bus too quite a different route to get there. On this particular occasion as we neared the station a passenger announced in a loud voice to the other passengers that the bus did not go to the station due to the road repairs. I intervened to say that it did, however, she was adamant that it did not and was advising them to get off at the next stop. However, the bus did not stop and continued to go to the railway station and only when it was clear that the bus was near the station did the lady apologised and say that her usual bus did not go this way.

What struck me was just how adamant she was in her view and expressed in at least four times even when it was becoming more obvious that we were nearing the station. Even although another passenger and I had intervened the lady stuck to her story almost until the evidence was telling a different story. Here was a timely reminder of how strongly we hold on to perceptions even when they are proved to be wrong. If the passengers had taken her advice and left the bus they would have needed to walk about 400yds to the station only to discover that the bus had arrive there. Therefore I think that there is significant value in at least listening to information that is different to what you think and to reflect on it before acting.

What is involved in developing a FOR?

It is quite amazing the amount of information that we share with others on a regular basis. The information is in the shape of what we say and do through our interactions and body language. Being willing to invest the time to observe others will usually be beneficial as long as we are looking at what they do to better understand the reasons why. Developing an understanding of why a person says or does something can provide an insight into what motivates them as well as information about how they feel about you.

Although the way we behave is complex and we sometime don’t know why ourselves, there is clear evidence that much of our behaviour is driven from habit. This means that it can be observed and whatever differences we observe can be related to potential difference in the environment. Therefore being able to observe someone in different environment can potentially help us to develop a more accurate FOR on that person.

A word of warning whilst making observations is to avoid the danger of becoming judgmental. It is so easy to judge a person’s behaviour as being wrong or inappropriate simply because it is different from yours. You need to always remember that when observing we describe what we see and hear in a non-judgmental manner. In this way we will pick up very valuable insights about those we are observing.

If you have any comments on this blog I would appreciate hearing from you by either contacting me by email at or leaving a comment on the blog.

Best wishes



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Listening to Influence

Building better relationships

It often comes as a surprise to those in a relationship that is having difficulties that one of the main reasons is a failure to actually listen to the other partner. Most of us believe that we are natural listeners and this is just not true when compared with the evidence that shows just how poor many of us are in ‘hearing’ and ‘understanding’ what others say to us.

The reason tends to be located in our drive to have our own agenda presented rather than in actually hearing and appreciating with others are saying. We tend to listen to a point where something is said that fits with what we want to say and we then jump in with our story. It often does not matter that the story does not align with what the other person has been saying as it has provided us with the necessary intro into our own spiel.

The challenge that we face is in being able to put our ego and needs on the back burner to give us time to genuinely focus on what others are saying to us. Actively listening requires a genuine desire to understand the picture from the speakers perspective even if we disagree with it. Sound relationships are build on this basis as the speaker knows that the listener is making a real effort to listen, hear what is being said, and wants to understand the message from the speaker’s perspective.

Appreciating what is involved in listening

One of the first lessons is to be sure that your hearing is OK and this can easily be checked by getting a hearing test. Many people who have had their hearing tested have been surprised to learn that they have hearing defects that in many cases are not serious but do impair their ability to effectively hear what is being said.

The second lesson is to recognise the power of your ego in driving you to push forward on your agenda irrespective of the needs of those you are interacting with. The more you demand that people listen to your story the less willing others will be to stick around to listen. Most of us want to believe that when we are speaking that those who are listening actually want to hear what we are saying because it means something to them to understand our message.

Another lesson is to recognise that every speaker and listener is different to some degree and this will naturally have an impact on the interaction. Knowing what the difference are can help us to appreciate that when someone appears to annoy us when they speak to us that this could indicate that the person has a different communicating approach to us. It is also true that when we feel very good about a speaker it is because the agenda and style of communicating fits with our style and agenda. Like is attracted by like and the reverse is also true. This is where the results from completing a Listening Style questionnaire can provide significant benefits by providing a model that explains the different ways we tend to listen. The feedback also provided ideas on what we can do to manage our relationships by modifying our listening approaches to better align with those we are interacting with.

I will delve into some of the other key lessons in my next blog.

Tom Jaap

21 October 2010

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