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  • Dr. Vin

How to Conquer Listening Blocks



(The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book on communication skills. This piece focuses on identifying and overcoming listening blocks. It is written in a teaching and learning format.)

“I did tell you, you just weren’t listening. You never listen to me.”

Have you been here? Your spouse, co-worker or child tells you that they were never told information that you clearly remember telling them? Even more frustrating, you know that often they only half listen, and that you rarely get 100% of their attention when you speak.

Chances are though, that they might report the exact same experience with you (that you never listen). But how can that be, you may wonder. Is it possible that we are sometimes deaf to what others are trying to communicate? Is it possible that they are deaf to what we have to say? The answer is yes and the reason is because we all employ (at one time or another) something called listening blocks. Listening blocks are common communication holes we fall into as a way of habit.

It is much easier to see the listening blocks that others utilize. But the truth is that everyone uses some listening blocks sometimes, and you may even use different ones with different people. The first step is to learn what kind of listening blocks you use. Knowing which holes you habitually fall into that result in poor listening can empower you to change.

Take a moment to circle the listening blocks you use from the list below.

LISTENING BLOCKS

  1. Comparing (who is smarter, more competent, more popular, etc.)

  2. Mind Reading (you do not pay attention to words and think you can read people without having to listen to them)

  3. Rehearsing (looking interested but really preparing what you want to say)

  4. Filtering (listen for some things and not others – e.g. are they angry at me?)

  5. Judging (either pre-judging the speaker or what they say and attaching a negative label, which makes you stop listening before you have heard them out)

  6. Dreaming (paying attention to only a fraction as your mind wanders elsewhere)

  7. Identifying (you identify and can’t wait to tell your own similar story)

  8. Advising (jumping in with unsolicited advice; trying to fix the problem)

  9. Sparring (listen long enough to disagree, then assert your opinion; includes sarcasm and put-downs)

  10. Being Right (proving you are right including lying, shouting, twisting facts, changing the subject, making excuses, and accusing)

  11. Derailing (change the subject or make a joke whenever you are bored or uncomfortable with the conversation)

  12. Placating (so concerned with being nice, agreeable, or liked that without really listening you agree with everything being said)

TOOL: “OH, THERE IT IS AGAIN.”

Take some time to examine which listening blocks you use. Once you are aware, the next time you feel an impulse to use that block, take a step back and say, “Oh there it is again”. Once you notice the block, I recommend you pause, take a few breaths and wait. Focus your attention on the speaker. Be aware of being open to just taking in what is being said with no other goal.

HOMEWORK: Pick one of your listening blocks and think of a person you use it with. The next time you talk to that person, prepare by being aware of your “go to” block and your intention to not use it. Breathe and pause when you feel pulled to use the block. Lean in with your ears and concentrate on listening without using your block. Sense your block fading into the background.

Practicing “OH THERE IT IS AGAIN” will be easier at some points than others but with time you can improve. Success will show as you begin to delay the automatic use of your block, use it less and eventually (ideally), not use it at all.

(end of exerpt)

So whether you tend to pre-judge or your mind wanders off or you jump in too soon with advice, awareness of your blocks will make you a better listener, which will make others feel closer to you. And I think that is what you want…or am I mind-reading here?