How to Overcome the 8 Barriers to Outstanding Listening

It’s a scientific fact*** that in every relationship between two people for the entirety of human history, one member of the couple has 100 percent outstanding listening ability and the other must be stone deaf because HE can’t hear anything other than the start of an NFL game on TV. On the other hand, a hungry cat can hear a can opener from 1,000 miles away. Between those two extremes, most of us reside in the realm of being decent listeners.

Most of us think we’re good listeners. But, are we really? Do we truly LISTEN or are we merely hearing the other person? There is a wide gulf between listening and hearing. Most of us hear just fine, but fewer people listen just as well.

For now, answer the eight questions below. You might be surprised at how much better you can do listening to others:

1. Do you give the person speaking to you your full attention?

Full attention means you’re not looking at your computer or answering a text on your phone. Nor are you shuffling papers on your desk. You cannot multi-task and listen at the same time. If you truly are too busy at the moment, ask the person if they can come back to talk later. It’s called common courtesy.

2. Are you thinking about your response before the person is finished speaking?

If you’ve jumped ahead and are rehearsing what you’ll say in response, you’re missing what the person is saying. For just a few minutes, concentrate on the other person.

3. Do you jump in with your own experiences and opinion when someone introduces a topic you’re familiar with; or worse, do you try to top their story?

If someone starts telling you about their bad experience with a customer you know, and you jump in before they’re finished, you’re not listening well. Saying “That reminds me of ….” in the middle of the other person’s story can be a bad habit.

4. Do you rush the speaker?

You’re restless. You think you know what the person is going to say, so you look at your watch or say “yep, yep” or “uh-huh, uh-huh” quickly and cut them off. This makes the speaker feel he or she is wasting your time.

5. Do you finish the speaker’s thought?

If you finish someone’s sentence (regardless of how slow they’re talking), you make the speaker feel rushed.  Finishing someone’s sentences is only cute when you’ve been dating for two months … and it’s only cute to you two.

6. Do you look at the person speaking?

Eye contact, a nod, a smile … all convey that you are listening. Slouching or looking over the speaker’s shoulder implies that you’re not interested. And stifle that yawn, soldier!

7. Do you ask too many questions?

There’s a fine line between asking a question or two to clarify … and grilling the person talking. Be courteous. They know what they want to share with you.

8. Do you offer advice, even when the speaker hasn’t asked for it?

When someone comes to you, oftentimes they’re not looking for advice. They’re just looking for a friendly ear and a little quiet support. It’s hard not to try to help, but do wait to be asked. Men of the Baby Boomer generation are notorious for this as they feel the need to be “The Fixer”.

Old habits are hard to break. However, to maintain your professionalism, you must work on your listening skills. Millions of co-workers, ex-spouses and parents of teenagers will attest that the most irritating thing in the world is trying to have a conversation with someone who you suspect is not listening. If you still want to see how you rank in your listening skills, try this test on the MindTools web site.

***Technically, not a scientific fact, but my ex-wife swears it’s true!

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