The ability to listen is thought to be one of the major components of a good relationship. Whether you want to be a good parent, good partner, a good boss, a good friend or a good colleague, listening skills are your best relationship investment.
It is not as easy to listen as we might think. The common misconception is that listening is just passively lending your ear to someone. It is not. In order to be effective, listening has to be a lot more active than that.
Research suggests that men and women think different about listening. Listening cues like nodding, saying “yes”, “mmmm”, “uh huh” are interpreted differently by each gender. Men think they are an indication that someone agrees with them, while women think that they indicate how involved the listener is. So when women don not hear these cue, they think the man is not listen. When men hear these cue, they think the woman agrees with them.
The hardest thing to do when listening is concentrate on what the other person is saying without using our natural filters. Here is a list of situation when most people find it hard to listen.
- It is hard to listen to complainers. Every person has a limit of how many complaints the can hear. At a certain point, the listening gets too overwhelmed by complaints and thinks, “What is he complaining about now!?”. This causes them to stop listening. Like turning off the audio on a tape, they just gently tune out the talker in order to conserve energy.
- It is very hard to listen to someone who expresses disappointment towards the listener. People are hardwired to protect their sense of self. A critical speaker can create pain for the listening through their tone of voice or the choice of words they use.
- It is hard to be an active listener when our brain is busy. In this case, when people speak, we find it hard to concentrate on what they are saying because our brain keeps drifting off to other things that seem more important.
- It is very hard for us to listen to people who are critical. Some people never seem to be happy with anything. Much like complainers, it triggers the thought, “What are they going to be critical about now!?”. These speakers get slowly faded out too.
- Research suggests the word “but” in a conversation can make it hard for the listener to keep engaged. Everybody knows that after the world “but” comes the reason why the speaker does not agree with your point of view. Phrases that turn people off are called “click-whirr” phrases.
- Another sentence which bothers the listener is, “You do not understand”. When someone uses this sentence, the listener feels criticized and stops listening.
- Another conversation stopping phrase is, “You never listen to me”. If the listener was paying attention before, now you can guarantee he/she is not listening any more. “Click-whirr” phrases are like scissors that cut off the string of communication between the speaker and the listener.
- When the listener cannot participate in a conversation, it makes it very hard for them to be active in their listening. For example, if the topic of conversation is too much beyond the listener’s level of understanding, or if the speaker does not allow them to get a word in edgewise, it makes it very hard for them to stay in the conversation.
- If the speaker is so fixated on a topic that they do not allow the conversation to change and evolve, it makes things more difficult for the listener. Some conversations are extremely intense and sensitive, and the listener tries to soothe or gently divert the conversation in order to change the tone/mood. If the speaker does not allow them to do that, they may find it hard to stay in the conversation.
- People with aggressive, demanding, pushy or judgmental tones of voice are harder to listen to.
Join me next time when I share with you the four types of listeners.
This post is part of the series The Art of Listening: