PEOPLE HEARING BUT NOT LISTENING
By Bill Southworth

In the communication process there are two essential parts to effective communication: speaking and listening. We seem to focus primarily on the speaking part, that is, effective delivery of a thought, opinion, or position on an issue. I see the continued popularity of Toast Masters and presentation skills workshops among so many of my clients. On the other hand, listening, as in listening to understand, is the part of effective communication that receives much less emphasis and yet is the most critical.

This and future articles will explores some of the bad listening habits that are barriers to good communication, as well as good listening habits. It's important to understand first what's not working with your listening habit(s) before moving on to change those habits. I think each reader will be able to identify with at least one of these habits. When you recognize a habit you will probably have some clues about your part in ineffective communication. These clues will significantly contribute to better relationships at home, at work, in your communities, and in the world.

There is a wide variety of ineffective listening habits that people develop over the years, often based upon how they have been listened to from early childhood up to the present time. I put listening in quotes simply because true listening is often not happening. There may be only a mechanical process of just hearing words, and it appears that some form of communication is taking place. But true listening in which the speaker feels understood is not happening.

In a March 27th column in The Cortez Journal I mentioned that we have a tendency to exclude people on the basis of their differences (from us). These differences may be based on race, gender, age, ethnic group, nationality, religious belief, political ideology, income and opinions. This exclusionary behavior shows up quite clearly in how we listen to the people we exclude. In some instances we refuse to listen to them by simply avoiding them and any contact with their written or spoken views. We don't want to hear their point of view, let alone try to understand it. We've already made up our minds about them and decided to exclude them. In this case no communication takes place and therefore there is no understanding. It's our right to avoid people and opinions we don't agree with, but I believe that leaves us in a weaker position as family, community and nation. For example, think of all the times you have avoided eye contact or discussing a difficult topic with a family member or neighbor.

In other situations when we can't avoid contact with people we'd rather exclude, we may listen in a variety of ways. For example, there is the Mindset Approach in which we have already decided what we think they are going to say, we know we won't agree and nothing they say will change our minds about their opinions or about them as people.

Or we use The-Best-Defense-is-a-Good-Offense Approach in which we launch into stating our position on an issue before the other parties are ready to express their position. We want the advantage of the high ground so we dominate the time and don't care about equal time or a level playing field for others to express their ideas.

Or we try the Reload Approach in which we listen just carefully enough to figure out what to reload to make our own points during a counterattack on the other's views. The moment there is some slight break in the action we jump back in to keep pushing our point. This works well as a strategy for a debate or a courtroom, but not well for effective communication. Like the other approaches, it undermines effective listening and therefore effective communication.

Do you use these non-listening tactics?
Do you know others who use them?
How are your communications?

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photo: Sarah Renard