Listen Up!

During sessions, I hear many complaints regarding communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. Yet, one of the keys to success is the ability to communicate. This is not something we always learn when we are younger and master. It takes work to be able to communicate well, and often within relationships or families, people have different styles of communicating and relating to one another. It can be easy to fall into a negative feedback loop leaving you with miscommunications, feeling misunderstood, or even resentful of the other person. Let’s consider what happens when two people are communicating. When there is a message being communicated, there is a speaker and a listener and often there is some back and forth where the speaker and listener are switching roles during the exchange. When you read about improving communication, tips tend to focus a lot on the speaker, such as, “use I statements or state your needs clearly,” but there is less focus on the listener. The job of the listener is just as important, as the listener helps the speaker feel validated and heard through the conversation, which can deepen the intimacy and connection in the relationship.  

We all deserve deep, intimate connections with others. To help improve your communication and deepen your connections, we are going to focus on what may be going on for the listener during the exchange. When being the listener, you can have good intentions, but can get stuck using one of the twelve blocks to listening without even realizing it. As you read through the blocks below, see if you have used one of these blocks when you are listening to others. When you are the speaker, if you have sensed you are not being heard, maybe the other person is engaging in one or more of the listening blocks.

1. Comparing – It is hard to listen because your brain is already checking in on who is smarter, more attractive, more competent, more healthy, etc.

2. Mind Reading – The mind reader is assuming they know what the other person is feeling and thinking and then does not hear what the other person is actually saying.

3. Rehearsing – You are already rehearsed what you are going to say in response and your attention is not on what the person is actually saying.

4. Filtering – You listen to some things, but miss out on others. You only pay enough attention to read if the person is angry or unhappy and how it may relate to you. Once you notice there is no threat to you, your mind begins to wander. Sometimes people also filter out any uncomfortable topics and feelings or simply just check out.

5. Judging – If you prejudge someone, you don’t tend to pay much attention to what they are saying because you have already written them off for whatever you judged them on instead.

6. Dreaming – You’re listening initially, but then something the person says triggers some private associations and you are off in dreamland.

7. Identifying – Here you take everything someone tells you and refer it back to your own experience. You then launch into your own story, sometimes not even realizing the other person has not finished theirs.

8. Advising – You act as the problem solver, ready to help out with suggestions or fix things for the speaker. While you are thinking of your feedback and suggestions, you may miss the important information the speaker is trying to tell you.

9. Sparring – This listening block has you arguing and debating with others. The speaker never feels heard because you are so quick to disagree, even if you are meaning it in a supportive way.

10. Being right – You will go to lengths to avoid being wrong. You cannot listen to criticism or take suggestions for change.

11. Derailing – This listening block is accomplished by changing the subject. This usually happens when the listener is bored or uncomfortable with a topic. This can also be done or hidden by using humor.

12. Placating – You respond with things like right, yes, absolutely. You are trying to be pleasant and supportive, but then agree with everything the speaker says.

If you find you are using some of these communication styles when being the listener, you are not alone! They are common and I know I have been guilty of some advising, mind reading, and rehearsing from time to time. The idea is to start bringing awareness to when you are engaging in these listening blocks and then to start making a change by being more present and actively listening when you are the listener. When you are actively listening, you hear the complete message the speaker is giving you. By actively listening, you are paying attention, showing the speaker you are listening, providing feedback if necessary, or clarifying things that are unclear. If you are the speaker identifying that your partner is not listening, forward the blog over to them for a read, or maybe it is time to contact me!