Elizabethkuhnke's Blog

Active Listening

Posted on: November 1, 2010

ACTIVE LISTENING

When I ask my clients, “How do you listen?”  the response is all too often, “With my ears!”   While that’s part of the process, other vital elements are missing. 

The Chinese symbol for the verb “To listen” is comprised of symbols that represent:  Ears, Eyes, Heart and Undivided Attention.  

To be a really effective listener you have to pay attention to more than just the words, Effective listening (also known as Active Listening), requires empathy and compassion. Listening for content as well as context is more than just hearing the words, you need to be 100% present with one another and whilst listening you notice body language, skin tone changes, the use of words and their content as well as the tone of voice.  It means that you have listened so well that, if necessary, you could repeat what you have just heard, accurately and in sequence.  Most arguments are the result of faulty listening.

So what are some of the barriers to listening? Here are a few suggestions, see which ones you identify with:

Judgements:  It is said that we take 30 seconds to decide whether we like someone or not.  If we don’t like them, we are far less likely to hear what they have to say as we’ll be busy making a list of faults instead.

Second-guessing:  “Oh yes, I know what they are talking about so I don’t have to listen fully.  I’ll just wait until they finish speaking and come up with what I want to say or alternatively, I might not wait until they finish and I’ll jump in”

Hijacking:  This happens when you hear something that you resonate with and immediately switch the conversation to your experience, rather than continue to listen and probably find that the situation is actually different.  How many times has that happened to you?   Do you find it frustrating?  Do you end up thinking, “Why am I even bothering to speak?

Filtering:  Most of us have filters of our own about something and we tend to listen through them.   So if you have a filter for criticism, then even if someone is actually giving you some praise, you are likely not to hear it because you will be listening for the negatives.

Rehearsing:  This often goes with Filtering.  So if you are tuned to hearing criticism, you will likely be rehearsing what you are going to say in your defence, whether it’s necessary or not!

These are just 5 barriers that will stop us from truly connecting with someone else and finding that in fact, we may have just missed an incredible opportunity to make a new friend or gain a new colleague. 

So next time you are listening, remember:  Ears, Eyes, Heart and Undivided Attention.   As a Native American quote says:  “Listen, or your tongue will keep you deaf”.  Wise words indeed.

For more information visit www.kuhnkecommunication.com

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6 Responses to "Active Listening"

Hi Elizabeth
Listening well is an art form, and one that many people just don’t do properly; they simply wait to speak.
Your examples are great, and so true!
thanks
Sue

Thanks for your insight, Sue. To listen with the intention of understanding is a great gift you can give to another person. You have to care about the person and what’s important to them to be a good listener. In my latest book, Persuasion & Influence for Dummies (due for publication August 2011), I devote a chapter to Active Listening and how to get yourself in the mindset for listening for understanding.

Good stuff.
You can also be a sounding board. Or simply an audience, like when a mother listens to her child talk about Elmo.

You’re absolutely right, Marc. Allowing the other person to speak without judging or interrupting is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

I am 43 years old. I have yet to meet or know anybody in my daily life who is a good listener. This situation has created so many problems for me whereby I find myself wanting to avoid hanging out with people, including friends and relatives. They simply take advantage of my listening skills, which includes taking an interest in them and asking them questions, yet the consideration is never returned. People talk my ears off constantly. It’s almost impossible to have intelligent conversations whilst trying to navigate around their constant interruptions and babbling. In the workplace, even bosses and managers over the years completely fail at active listening, often allowing me just a few sentences to explain things. At times I have confronted relatives and/or friends and it is always complete denial whereby somehow their poor listening skills is my fault, or they use straw man arguments which shifts the focus. Besides being my fault, they suggest that I should be doing such and such differently; always me bending versus them just facing up to their poor listening tendencies. They remain completely clueless simply because they have little insight as to what active and effective listening is. When you become aware of these skillsets and practice them, your social awareness tends to shoot way up which can be an amazing blessing and gift to have. Yet at the same time it can become a nightmare once you start becoming aware. Because then you can clearly see and realize just how widespread and problematic this issue is. I have ended so many relationships over this issue. Not just due to the stress and exhaustion of dealing with poor listeners, but also because a great part of myself always has to remain suppressed. This includes my interests, my opinions, my stories, etc. A therapist once told me that I should try this, I should say that, I should do this, I should do that. Great, useful indeed. But once again, it me doing the bending. And frankly I just get tired of having to think about navigation strategies during a typical conversation when I just want to have fun and enjoy a conversation naturally. At my last workplace I fearfully told my manager that she is not giving me enough time to explain things and that I often usually get interrupted after one single sentence. To which she interrupted and said in an angry manner “I don’t interrupt you”. Huh? Once again, I couldn’t explain. I am not asking for 5 minutes of un-interrupted speech but rather only mere equality in terms of talking time. The irony is that attempts to resolve these issues is ONLY about enhancing and advancing the relationship, yet somehow it is twisted to imply that I am disrespecting them (even though I constantly show respect via my ability to allow them to speak fully). Part of me literally feels like these folks simply aren’t intelligent enough to grasp this. I hate to think like this, but poor listening skills often and usually manifests with so many disadvantages for them. Anyway, thanks for listening. 🙂

I ‘hear’ what you’re saying and appreciate the frustration you seem to be feeling. Have you practiced using “I-Statements” in which you tell the other person how their behaviour makes you feel and what changes you’d like to experience? For example, “I feel insignificant when you interrupt me when I’m speaking. I’d like to finish my thought before you comment.” As for what you “Should” do, you’ll never hear me say that. Instead, I prefer to think about what people “could” do as that gives them choice and responsibility for their own behaviour. Also, I’m wondering what your experience is with the “Yes, but” response. Any other readers care to share your comments? e.

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