How to listen and hear nothing at all

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. (Winston Churchill)

This post extends upon a previous post (Make sure it's not you) covering the topic of listening skills. More specifically, how to identify when you are listening but not actually hearing what people are saying. I strongly believe that listening (recognizing the words) and hearing (thinking & understanding) what people say are two entirely different things.

For example, you can introduce prejudices that influence how you interpret the actions and words of another person in either a good or negative fashion. However, you are introducing distortion and potentially negatively affecting your relationship by doing this. Suppose, I listen to you with rose-colored glasses (e.g., I take everything in a positive light), I may not realize I need to deliver a strong message to you such as, "I don't think that idea will work because it does not address your core need." On the other hand, I don't think you'd like it if I merely gave you lip service and didn't even consider your arguments seriously. So how can you tell if you aren't hearing what people are saying? Here are some indications:

  1. Are you constantly interrupting people? Do you finish their sentences?
  2. Are you unwilling to even listen to anything that doesn't fit with your thinking?
  3. Do you think the issues facing others are trivial before you even speak to them?
  4. Do you feel you know what people need before they even discuss it with you?
  5. Do you roll your eyes when others are talking to you?
  6. Do you enter a conversation with a preset position? Does this position distort what you hear?
  7. Do you start side-conversations with other people rather than always being attentive to the speaker?

These types of behaviors can be indicative of a listening (I mean hearing) problem. The hardest part is realizing that you are listening but not hearing. However, you can resolve this problem with a few simple steps:

  1. Before you enter a discussion, divest yourself of any preconceived judgments and notions.
  2. Let people talk to you in their own words. Don't put words in their mouths or lead them.
  3. Use active listening to play back what you understood. Clarify any miscommunications.
  4. Ask probing questions to fill in the gaps.

After taking these simple steps you'll have a more unbiased and objective perspective. Furthermore, your clients will know you're listening and interacting with them.

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