You’re Not Even Listening To Me – Part 2

This is the third post in a (very spread-out) series.

Part 0: Background

Part 1: Musings on Listening

Part 2: Barriers to Listening (this post)

Part 3: Techniques for Listening (non-cheesy, I promise) [forthcoming]

Part 4: Challenges for Listening [forthcoming]

Barriers to Listening:
There are a bazillion barriers to listening. Here I’ll break them up into two broad categories: Hearing barriers (i.e. the physical aspect of being able to hear) and Listening barriers (i.e. self barriers – barriers that may be unique to each person).

Some common hearing barriers include:

  • Technological barriers (bad phone reception, etc)
  • Music playing
  • Background noise
  • Crowds
  • Competing conversations (I’m horrible at this one).

Some common Listening (or self) barriers include:

  • Buzz/trigger words (“you should”, “you have to,” “company policy”)
  • Interruptions
  • Assuming we know or understand
  • Day dreaming
  • Biases

The above lists could easily be much longer. I suspect that some of the above apply to you while others don’t. Competing conversations, for example, are a huge problem for me. Any time I’m in an environment where there are multiple conversations going on (say, at a busy restaurant), I often have a harder time hearing/listening to the person I’m supposed to.

Rather than focus on the infinite number of barriers, I would like to focus on some general ways to overcome barriers.

1. Understand Yourself.

Most of us understand that there are certain situations in which we need silence and/or solitude to concentrate. Maybe it is reading or studying or balancing your checkbook – whatever it is, there are situations in which most of us need it to be quiet. On the other hand, some people require a low level of distraction noise to be able to focus. My point is: understand yourself and apply that to listening. If you are someone who always had to study deep in the stacks at the engineering library in college – then it might not be best for you to try to have an important conversation in a busy coffee shop. The inverse, of course, holds true as well.

2. Control what you can.

Turn the TV off. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve tried to have with my wife with the TV on, but I can tell you that almost every single one of them ended by me being distracted. It might seem odd to ask your wife if it’s okay if you turn the TV off, but in the end she’ll appreciate your full attention. Turn off your phone while you’re at it – don’t allow your important conversation to be interrupted.

Turn off the TV. Turn off the phone. Turn down the music. Turn away from your desk so you can’t see your little IM buddy pop-up. Whatever it is that seems to distract you: identify it and do what you can to control it. Important conversations require important focus and the only way to achieve that is to eliminate as many distractions as you are able.

3. Don’t be afraid to reschedule
This one fits in with listening at work more so than at home. It may feel awkward, but if you’re pressed for time, overly tired, or just flat-out distracted, suggest scheduling (or rescheduling) a particular time where you can be focused.

4. Sleep.
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep equals lack of concentration and results in an inability to effectively listen. If you’re tired, you’re just not going to listen as well as if you were alert. In conjunction with this is a practical piece of advice: try to avoid late night “important” conversations when you’re sleepy. I realize that not all conversations can wait until morning; but some can. For me, serious conversations late at night just don’t work that well. I nod off.

Nothing tells your wife “I’m not listening” quite like nodding off.

5. Take a mind dump
I explored this a little in the previous parts of this series, but much of what our inability to effectively listen is rooted in is selfishness. Closely related to that is just an overloaded life. Some times when you come home, you’ve still got a bazillion things on your mind from work. Some times when you get to work, you have a bazillion things on your mind from home.

Too much on the mind leads to internal prioritizing when conversations start: is what this person is saying more important than all of the other crap going on in my head? If so (not usually decision made since we are inherently selfish creatures), tune in; otherwise tune out.

The most effective thing I’ve found to combat this is to take a mind dump. For the stage of life I’m in right now, I tend to have a lot on my mind at the end of my work day. To try to combat an overloaded mind, I’ll often stop off at a coffee shop and just take a mind dump for 30 minutes or so before going home. Sometimes that takes the shape of journaling, sometimes it takes the shape of just sort of spacing out. Either way, it aides in me clearing my head so that my mind can be focused on my wife and my family as it needs to be when I get home.

Closely related with this and also tied in with the last one is taking a quick nap. In place of 30 minutes at the coffee shop, I’ve also pulled off in to a parking lot, laid the seat back and taken a short power nap to clear my mind and re-energize myself before going home. A little sleep and a cleared head work wonders for my attitude and attention when I arrive at home.

A word of caution: before trying one of these last two suggestions: discuss it with your spouse. Spending time hanging at a coffee shop every night on your way home from work could be misconstrued. On the other hand, if you communicate that you need a bit of a buffer/unwind time before coming home and they see the difference it makes, they will be much more likely to be supportive of your stopping-off.


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~ by toddbumgarner on April 8, 2008 10:44 pm.

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