Notes to Self

Thoughts on psychology, spirituality and soft skill development for personal improvement


Active Listening

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." - Robert McCloskey

listening skill

Most people believe they are good listeners.

Listening for the sake of a conversation is easy. But listening with the intent to empathize - understand how the other person thinks and feels - is quite difficult. In a personal relationship, active listening - the skill of listening with a purpose - is especially important to enrich relations and resolve (and prevent) conflicts. Some of the things that interfere with our listening are:

  1. Selective Listening:

    This happens when the listener doesn't pay attention (consciously or unconsciously) to what the other person is saying, either because they (i) don't like or respect the person or (ii) they don't agree with the other person. In such cases, often due to personal prejudices or a strong conviction, the listener tends to automatically disregard and 'tune out' what they disagree.

    Solution: If you don't like the speaker, disregard your feelings for him / her and focus all your attention to the topic being discussed - the idea isn't to get the speaker to like you but just to try to understand him / her. If you find yourself drifting or tuning out to what the other person is saying, focus on the things you disagree with and be more inquisitive - try to find out how the speaker thinks and came to believe or conclude what he / she said without starting an argument or becoming emotional. Equally important, convey to them how you formed your opinion on the subject being discussed. Again, the idea is to just try and understand each other rather than trying to prove who is right or knows more.

  2. Jumping to Conclusion:

    Some people don't listen carefully because (i) they assume they know what the speaker is going to say next or (ii) they believe the speaker has some hidden motives. In both cases the speaker spends more time trying to figure out a reply or in 'uncovering' the hidden motives than actually listening.

    Solution: Remember, even superman wasn't a mind reader. So don't try to be one. Yes, you could make educated guesses based on non-verbal cues or your personal knowledge of the speaker. But you have an equally good chance of being wrong (this is one of the main reasons why couples have disagreements). So don't try to mind read; and if you have formed any assumptions, clarify and find out if it is right before acting on them.

  3. Passive Listening:

    Passive listeners don't participate in the conversation when they disagree with the speakers and pretend to agree or compromise to avoid any confrontation.

    Solution: Passive listeners are often perceived as weak and / or boring because they don't communicate their thoughts. Realize that disagreements become ugly confrontations only when you take things too emotionally. Learn to be more assertive and expressive about your thoughts and feelings.

  4. Relative Listening:

    There is a joke that there are two kinds of people in this world - one who will listen to you when you tell him not to pee on a fence (because it is electrified) and the other, who will disregard your advice and insist on peeing on the fence to find out if you were right. Relative listeners fall into the latter category - they constantly look into their past experiences and personal knowledge pool for references to what the speaker is saying before accepting anything. They thus appear self centered and arrogant and usually indulge in selective and passive listening.

    Solution: While a strong internal frame of reference (belief system) is good, it doesn't mean we have to automatically disregard anything that doesn't fit into it. Sometimes, the best way to show someone that you trust them is by accepting their advice and not being afraid to follow it.

  5. Rehearsing:

    Some shy and anxious individuals worry about freezing up in a conversation, so they spend a lot of time in thinking about what to say next. Hence, they aren't able to pay attention and often miss out on what the speaker is actually saying.

    Solution: Relax.

Related » Assertiveness