The Art of Listening, Part 2 Human Nature—Pick me! Pick me!

While human beings are social animals, we are also ego driven.  We want to be thought of as smart.  As right. As having the answers. We want to be the one to be picked. The one to be looked up to.  But without proper training, when provided limited or general information, our natural instinct is to reach conclusions based on our own existing knowledge or biases, to ‘show what we know’.  It is much easier than doing the work required to actually get the whole story which may, or may not, lead to an opportunity to ‘show what you know’. The required work is a learned skill.  The skill of listening.

We would all like to think we have amazing empathy and self-control when engaged in interpersonal communications. The reality is, most of us are so wrapped up into our own heads, wants, needs and perceptions, we don’t hear a thing.  The reality is, we often respond to others impulsively and based on what we think, not on the content of the information being given to us.

We place a far higher value on what we have to say than what we have to hear.

“Look at how much I know!”

Poor listeners miss great opportunities.

The most effective communicators spend 80% or more of their efforts asking probing questions and listening to the answers, before they ever venture an opinion or recommendation.  They have discovered a most important piece to effective listening: You can’t give out an accurate response to someone until you allow the other persons information to get in.

A real life example of ineffective listeners:

Jan is sitting at a local coffee shop catching up on computer work.  Bert, John, Kate and Terry enter the building together and join Jan.  After shared greetings, a conversation begins.

Jan: “Today I decided that I can’t be going on any more extensive, multi-day hikes that require packing in all the gear, tent, water and food,”

Bert, interrupting:  “There are plenty of day hike areas I can share with you.”

John, interrupting:  “It’s all about the type of equipment you use, you should be using a pack designed for your frame.   What kind of pack do you have?”

Jan: “Actually, my pack is fine, John, I just can’t carry it once I get it fully packed.”

Bert, interrupting: “I know a couple places just a few miles past city limits with nice groomed trails so you wouldn’t have to carry gear very far.”

John interrupting: “well what are you packing that’s so heavy? You need to make sure your gear is ultra-light and made specifically for backpacking. My tent is only 1.5 lbs.  What kind of tent are you carrying?”

Jan, becoming slightly frustrated: “John it’s not the tent, it’s more of…”

Bert, interrupting: “hey, did you see that special on hiking the lower trails last week?  They had all sorts of super ultra-light accessories.”

Kate, answering/interrupting: “Oh, yeah, I saw that too.”

Terry, interrupting: “Is that a caramel latte?”

Jan: “I have ultra light gear, that’s not the point.  I can’t even manage barely 15 pounds from the car to the house now.”

John: “If you can’t carry 30 lbs you need to get an MRI done. There is something wrong.”

Terry, interrupting:  “I’ve been going to Pilates lately, it’s been pretty good!”

John, interrupting, back to Jan:  “Well are you working out?  You need to keep up core work to carry that frame pack any distance, you know.  Are you working out?”

Jan, irritated by Johns suggestion she is weak: “John, of course I work…”

Terry, interrupting:  “hey, we should all go on a day hike with Jan on Saturday so she sees how fun that area is.”

Jan exasperated with the group of people “Terry, I really don’t want to go on a day hike Saturday either, since….”

John, interrupting: “Well it’s important for women to focus on upper body, especially.”

Jan, now over the top of aggravated, stands up:  “Guys!  Guys!  I can’t walk! I have a sprained foot.  I’m in a BOOT!”

The group freezes, mouths open, starring down at Jan’s foot.

Jan was frustrated by the group’s constant interruptions as she tried to share what had happened to her.  She wasn’t asking for a solution, or an evaluation.  She found their behavior rude and disrespectful, and rightly so.  But the various assumptions made, especially the ones made by John made matters much worse. She found his participation insulting condescending, and insensitive. Jan was an avid, highly experienced hiker and he treated her as though she was a clueless beginner, in front of other people. John, on the other hand, wanted to be viewed as knowledgeable, helpful, and right.

There are several problems that can arise when scenarios like this one occur:

  1. The speaker does not speak up about showing some respect as they are trying to speak; the poor listener has no idea their behavior is unacceptable, thereby reinforcing the bad behavior over and over.
  2. The poor listener offends the speaker to a point where the speaker simply becomes silent, and no longer tries to communicate around them.
  3. Both parties can possibly loose an opportunity.

How many effective communicators have you met? How many ineffective ones? Which are you?

The Art of Listening, Part 3 will talk more about becoming a better listener.

“To say the right thing at the right time, keep still most of the time.”

John W. Roper

Contact PR Brady AdVentures for details on developing better listening skills for you or your team.

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