Most people will assert that they are good listeners. But do we really listen to each other? Very often, conversations take place while eating, watching TV, driving and completing work tasks. Our attention may be scattered across numerous things, with only a small amount of focus on what is being said to us, and how the other person is expressing their feelings too. There are many barriers to listening. These include:
Most of us think about four times faster than the average person speaks. This gives extra time for thinking per minute of listening. Sometimes, it is possible to use this extra time to think our own thoughts, instead of listening to others.
‘Red-rag to a bull’ listening.
To many of us, some words or phrases can be ‘like a red rag to a bull’, triggering prejudices, emotions and extreme reactions. Some words, such as ‘unions’, ‘on benefits’, ‘management’, ‘police’, ‘Brexit, ‘government’ evoke an automatic response. Specific names can also have this effect. When heard, we may feel irritated, and barriers are made.
A closed mind.
Sometimes, we can be guilty of deciding all too quickly that either a subject or the speaker is of no interest to us, or that what the speaker is saying makes no sense. We may jump to conclusions about what is about to be communicated, mentally - or even literally – finishing off another person’s sentence or deciding not to listen.
Too deep a subject.
This can happen when we are listening to ideas that we consider to be too complex or too specialised; this can result in zoning out.
Sometimes, it is possible to drift into the comfort of our own thoughts while apparently listening to someone. It is likely that the speaker will know that he or she is not being attended to. A dreamy expression can give this away.
We all know the difficulties of listening to someone when there is noise (including ‘background’ music), or movements, or others claiming our attention.
Everyone is probably guilty of this, from time to time. Perhaps a subject has been raised, and you are keen to make a comment on it. So instead of listening, you are mentally preparing your response. This means that you are not fully listening to the speaker.
These are just a few of the things that can prevent active listening. Perhaps you can think of some more? What matters is that we take the time and effort to sit down with a friend, acquaintance or family member and really give our attention to what is being said, and also what is expressed by accompanying non-verbal cues too. Giving someone else our full attention is a mark of respect and is a great skill to nurture.