Things you are doing that are not listening

It's my job to listen. My interest and curiosity in people is natural, the drive to really know the real person underneath, but funnily enough I didn't really learn how to listen until I hit graduate school. I genuinely cared about the people in my life, and I certainly thought I was listening to them, but sometimes I wasn't. Sometimes blocks kept me from fully hearing what my friends, family and co-workers were saying. 

Now I teach my clients about these blocks too, so they can build awareness about when they're truly listening to others and when they're unconsciously reacting. Practice noticing when these blocks come up for you - do you find yourself using certain blocks with certain people? Do some blocks come up in different locations or at certain times of day? Ponder these:

Comparing - This can come up when expectations don't meet reality. You're in a situation and your mind wants to categorize and compare and contrast the information being communicated with your own experience. This is normal and okay to do, but if it gets out of control you aren't listening to what is being said because you're stuck on the fact that it's not what you expected to hear.

Mind Reading - This can veer into the realm of psychological abuse. When someone is speaking and you think you know what they're really saying or you don't believe them and you wonder what their real intentions are, there is a lack of trust that needs to be addressed. Believe people when they are speaking, at least believe that they believe what they are saying. Set your intention to understand their beliefs. Energy put into trying to figure out a hidden underlying meaning meaning or putting too much emphasis on tone or facial expression leads to negating what they're saying because you think you know what they're thinking. You don't. 

Rehearsing - If you are thinking about what you are going to say, you aren't fully tuned in and listening to what someone else is saying. Trust yourself that you will know the right words when it is your turn to speak. Jot down a quick note if you're truly afraid you're going to forget it, or say "I don't want to interrupt you, I'm afraid I'm going to forget what I want to tell you so remind me, it's about cat memes."

Filtering - Listening to the things you want to hear and filtering out the rest. This may be done consciously or you could be unaware of it. It could be a situation where you don't respect the person who is speaking, or you are using them for a particular purpose. Maybe you are only interested in your own agenda and anything else that is said you tune out because your mind is made up. It could be more innocent, in an unconscious expression of confirmation bias. You know what you know is true and you aren't interested in other options so you become blind to them. Build up your inner curiosity and critical thinking skills. Make it a habit to ask yourself every now and then, "Hmm, am I really correct about this?"

Judging - When you are listening to your internal judgments that come up, it leaves you incapable of hearing and understanding where the speaker is coming from. This becomes extra potent when an emotional reaction comes up. You're triggered and feel angry or disgusted or fearful and you start listening to your own internal monologue instead of what is being said. This is why communication can be so difficult. It's super difficult to listen to others and remain nonjudgmental. Meditate daily, practice awareness while others are speaking, and slowly you will gain control of these judgments running amok in your mind and be able to steer yourself back on course. The glass doesn't have to be judged as either half full or half empty - it's just a glass with some water in it. Set judgments aside and tune back in to what is being said. It can be helpful to give your inner critic a name and personality. When you hear him or her being judgmental, you can ask them to be quiet or mentally show them the door.

Dreaming - Ooh this one still gets me if I'm not paying attention. Especially in a workshop environment where I want to listen to the presenter, but I get so excited and invigorated with the thoughts and ideas that flow into my mind I'm catapulted over and over again into fantasies about my inspirations. Then I snap back to reality and haven't heard a single word that has been said for several minutes. Now that I have gained strength in my mind and awareness I can catch this right away and jot down a quick note to remind myself of my idea later, but this one used to be totally out of my control because even the concept of being able to pay concentrated attention when someone is speaking was outside of my awareness.

Identifying - Someone wants to tell you about their trip and it reminds you of the last time you went somewhere and the result is two people talking about their experiences and neither one is really listening to the other. Or your friend gives up trying to tell you about their trip and just listens to you, maybe feeling a little disgruntled. 

Advising - When you're giving solutions and advice, you're not listening. Focus on what is being said and wait for them to voice their own solutions or ask your advice. It's as plain as that. Think about it, do you like when you are trying to tell someone your problems and they disregard your situation and insist that you need to go with them to their favorite group fitness class? It feels like you're not connecting, cause ya ain't.

Sparring (and Discounting) - Arguing and debating. Personally this still feels like a big pet peeve of mine, yet I also catch myself doing it. My husband blames it on social media and everybody constantly arguing points back and forth these days. When two people are locked into this pattern, neither one is truly listening to the other. Communication isn't even taking place at all, the messages aren't getting through. To see if you're doing this, check and see if you have any knee-jerk reaction to argue with simple things people are saying. A friend might say "This place has really good coffee," and something inside you wants to respond with, "It's okay, it's not any better than the coffee at that other place and it's more expensive, plus the hours here suck." Comments like that seem small but are a block to communication. Your friend is just trying to express that he likes the coffee and you're raining on his parade. Is there a pattern going on? What is underneath all of this sparring? Discounting is a "nice" form of sparring where you argue when people give you compliments. You discount the positive things they say and leave them feeling unheard. Let the love in!

Being Right - This is the Ego. You believe you are right, and nothing will shake this belief. You aren't listening to what others are saying because you are defending your point of view with everything you've got. This block can typically show up when someone is giving you criticism, suggestions or feedback. The slightest criticism feels like rejection, which hurts, and you immediately jump to defending because you feel attacked. It can help here to think of a time where you really wanted to give feedback to a loved one and it felt like a confrontation and they weren't able to hear what you were saying. Assume the person speaking to you does care and has your best interests in mind.

Derailing - Also known as suddenly changing the subject. You aren't comfortable with the topic or maybe you're just bored. Sometimes this can look like cracking jokes when you feel the conversation is too serious and you want to lighten the mood and also stop the conversation in its tracks.

Placating - agreeing with everything that is being said, so you appear involved but really you are staying out of it and not putting energy into what is being said. The motivation is to look like you are present and listening but you really aren't interested or don't want to participate for whatever reason.

Be kind to yourself - everyone uses these blocks at some point. Begin by noticing them and start exploring the underlying process that's fueling it. Work your way towards setting them aside and focusing back in on what the speaker is saying, then respond actively with a question or statement about whatever it is they're talking about. Eventually you may notice a pattern where people get it all out, feel heard and appreciated by you, and then return the favor by showing interest and asking what's going on with you. Healthy relationships are reciprocal, everyone's needs are being met.

I love that I get to model these skills in my job and thus spread the feeling of being truly heard. Culturally we are living in a time where there needs to be a lot more listening going on. Listening begets empathy and understanding, which leads to the creation of positive solutions to our differences.

Wishing you well,