It’s a proven fact: listening is more than just the physical act of hearing. So why do we sometimes “zone out” during conversations? Even though we may be able to hear what is being said, it’s only through aggressive listening that we can really understand what is being said — on both denotative (definitions) and connotative (emotional) levels.
Listening requires concentrated effort. It requires silencing our “monkey minds” that constantly flit between different visual, auditory, and sensory stimulation. It requires being present in the moment — and quit worrying about the past or the future.
Maybe it’s our fast-paced world or maybe it’s these constant distractions that pummel us from every direction, but the art of listening has fallen to the wayside.
But without aggressive listening, mistakes are made. Feelings are hurt. Important information is overlooked. And the levels of trust and respect between the communicating partners can be forever damaged.
So, how do you learn how to become an aggressive listener?
To start, here are what I consider to be the Top 5 irritating listening habits — plus some tips on how to overcome them.
- Irritating Listening Habit #1: Interrupting the speaker. No one likes to be interrupted! Interruptions are often interpreted as signs that you are belittling the importance of what the speaker is saying. Even though you might think that you know what the person is going to say next, take a breath and wait for them to pause before interjecting your thoughts. And consider asking a question instead of judging what they have been saying!
- Irritating Listening Habit #2: Showing interest in something else. This is a sure sign to the speaker that you aren’t interested in the conversation. While some unexpected distractions can divert your attention (such as an alarm bell going off), showing interest in something other than the speaker is disrespectful. Instead focus on understanding the nuances of what the speaker is saying: how do they really feel about what they are saying? Are they happy, sad, excited, fearful? By understanding the emotions underlying their words (the connotative meaning), you can get much more insight into the true meaning and importance of what they are saying.
- Irritating Listening Habit #3: Saying “yeah, but…” While it is not expected that you will necessarily agree with everything that the speaker is saying, responding (or interrupting) with “yeah, but…” indicates that you made your mind up about the topic — probably before you even listened to the speaker. In other words, your role in the two-way conversation was focused on crafting your own response rather than trying to understand the speaker’s position. Instead try agreeing (the “yeah” in the “yeah, but”) then following with a separate question focused on gaining clarification. The key is to come from a place of interest, rather than confrontation or judgment.
- Irritating Listening Habit #4: Not responding to the speaker’s requests. In other words, responding with a “huh” instead of a direct reply. While it’s true that fatigue can compromise our ability to aggressively listen, most of the time it’s that the listener was not paying attention by focusing on something outside the conversation. This lack of response can also happen when a speaker stops talking…but the listener doesn’t contribute to the continuation of the conversation. It’s those awkward pauses. If you find your mind drifting away from the conversation, try taking a break or adding some type of physical activity (not fidgeting!). A brief coffee break or suggesting that you take a walk while you’re talking can often bring your focus back to the conversation.
- Irritating Listening Habit #5: Not looking at the speaker. Although hearing might only require functioning ears, aggressive listening requires both auditory and visual cues. Mehrabian’s 55-38-7 rule advises that 55% of the meaning that we receive during communication is the result of body language (visual cues), 38% from the tone of voice (auditory cues), and only 7% from the actual words spoken. Be sure to observe the speaker’s movements and body language in order to fully comprehend what they are trying to communicate — don’t just rely on your ears for understanding!
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.