Nine Reasons We Don’t Listen – And What To Do About It!

Less than 2% of the population has ever been trained to listen, and the results of this are overwhelmingly apparent in society today, but listening is not easy, even in the best of circumstances. The following describe some of our listening challenges and suggested solutions:

1.    Noise 

Environmental Noise: Many of us live in a noisy world; loud music, loud voices, traffic, barking dogs, etc. Search for quiet areas to talk if it is an important conversation. iStock_000014427266XSmallListening is hard enough without the additions of distracting external noise.

In addition to environmental noises, there is also physiological noise that stems from our body aches and pains that make it difficult to focus on the speaker, as well as, psychological noise such as internal chatter.

Many of us have a non-stop active stream of internal conversation. It takes practice to empty out our internal chatter and listen carefully to what the speaker is saying and how they are saying it.

Solution: Focus on your breath, noticing both the internal and external noises but not dwelling on them. Instead focus on the person in front of you with the utmost curiosity. Listen with your ears, heart and all of your senses; let the person in front of you become the foreground and everything else recede into the background.

2.    Worry, fear, anger 

When we can’t focus because our emotions are out of control, it helps to share this with the speaker. You may say something like “I can’t seem to listen to you right now, because I am so angry. Can we talk another time?”

Solution: If this is not possible, see if you can “bracket” your challenges for the moment, meaning put them aside in order to focus. No worries, they won’t go away and you can pick them up when you are ready.

3.    Lack of attention span 

Brain Speed (mind wanders) – thoughts move about four times as fast as speech, making it easy to get distracted. Also, your individual style and that of the speaker’s may not be matched. For example, they speak really slowly and you are racing ahead, or perhaps they talk rapidly with lots of details and it’s hard to keep up.

Notice if you are internally saying, “Get to the point,” “Cut to the chase.” Our internal filters are the way most of us process information, but by recognizing and acknowledging this voice, we can tune it out and to listen to them.

Solution: Get curious about what they are saying and paraphrase regularly to ensure you understand. Focus on the precise words they are saying. This forces you to concentrate. If the speaker speaks very fast, try to break it up with summarizing after key points. Always check with the speaker to ensure you heard correctly.

4.    You like to talk

You talk a lot and the other person cannot get a word in. If you hear your voice more than the other voice you may want to adjust your output.

The latest studies show that the human brain can really only hold on to four things at a time, so by talking for 5-10 minutes or more, the other person will remember only a small part of what you say.  Click here to read more on “Psychology of Language.”

Solution: Apologize and say, “I really want to hear from you, I know I’ve been monopolizing the conversation.”

In the future, try to remember to speak briefly, try speaking for only a few sentences; about 30 seconds is about all the brain can really take in. Really!

As the listener of someone who hardly takes a breath when speaking, you will need to respectfully interrupt if you want to get a word in. Raise your hand, give a time out signal, or clear your throat and ask, “I have another perspective, would you like to hear it?”

5.    Boredom

You’re bored with subject so you interject something about yourself. You find their tone of voice monotonous or they can’t seem to get to the point.

Solution: Ask questions and then paraphrase. Soon the conversation becomes a dialogue and not a monologue. Once involved you can become more engaged. Also see if you can listen beyond and behind the words to what is being unsaid and you become a more active participant to the conversation.

6.    You fear running out of time 

You have another engagement and become distracted. You fear there will be no time for your side of the story.

Solution: Signal time out, or point to your watch for a time check. Let them know that you are running out of time and want to share something important before you have to leave. A preventative technique is to share on the front end how much time you have for the conversation and ask them to keep it brief.

7.    Language differences or accents

Solution: You may need to lean in closely if the accent is hard to understand. Here again, paraphrasing often helps to ensure you are hearing correctly. Pay attention to how the person creates certain sounds and file it away so you understand the next time you hear it,  i.e. non-English speakers may say the “a” sound differently. You may also ask your partner to slow down or repeat what they said so you can make sure you heard correctly.

8.    Bias or prejudice 

When we don’t agree with the speaker we may try to preserve our ways of thinking to avoid being convinced of something different, and therefore, do not listen to what they are saying. Sometimes with differences in race, age, occupation or appearance we may make assumptions about what they are saying that has nothing to do with what they are actually saying or mean.

Solution: It helps to know our own biases, become aware of when we make assumptions and be open to different opinions and the possibility of being influenced. Interrogate your own assumptions with questions “Is that really true?” “What am I assuming and why?’ “Are my assumptions valid?”

9.    Response Preparation 

Our tendency to rehearse what we are going to say while the other speaker is talking, or “re-loading” is probably the most common form of non-listening. You are listening to a conversation you are having with yourself, commenting on and filtering what is being said.

Solution: Catch yourself doing this and tell yourself that by focusing on the person and understanding them, you will be able to respond even more effectively. The more you deeply listen, the more likely you can respond thoughtfully when it is your turn.

 Start a listening revolution today!!




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