Curiosity should underlie a listener’s behavior in conversations.
Listening well, and asking curious questions, ensures you understand the problem.
I find that my misunderstandings are the result of premature and ill-founded assumptions on my part. There is a balancing act to maintain between reasoning from analogy and reasoning from first principles.
Recently, I realized why people keep giving this weird-seeming advice. Good listeners do often reflect words back—but not because they read it in a book somewhere. Rather, it’s cargo cult advice: it teaches you to imitate the surface appearance of good listening, but misses what’s actually important, the thing that’s generating that surface appearance.
The generator is curiosity.
When I’ve listened the most effectively to people, it’s because I was intensely curious—I was trying to build a detailed, precise understanding of what was going on in their head.
It often feels like I understand enough to be helpful without knowing all those details. But when I think that, I’m usually wrong: I end up giving bad advice, based on bad assumptions, and the person I’m talking to ends up having to do a bunch of work to argue with me and correct my bad assumptions. That makes the conversation feel disfluent and adversarial instead of collaborative.