“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus
Listening is much more than just a passive process of receiving information – it is active. When we choose to listen actively, we seek to fully understand what it is that the other person is thinking and feeling. We are willing to set aside our personal defenses and truly listen to what is being said. We refrain from jumping in with our own point of view or defending our “side.” When we listen effectively, we are open to asking questions when we are unclear about what is being said. We are willing to admit when we do not understand something, because our true intention is understand the other person.
Sometimes even the best of intentions to actively listen are sabotaged when use the following listening blocks, adapted from The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (McKay, Wood, & Brantley, 2007).
1. Mind reading: Assuming that we already know what it is that the other person thinks or feels, without asking them.
2. Rehearsing: Planning out what we want to say next in our minds, missing what is being said now.
3. Filtering: Listening only to that which we believe to be important or relevant to us personally, missing the full context or what is important to them.
4. Judging: Evaluating what the other person is saying without really attempting to empathize, or understand how they view the world.
5. Daydreaming: Getting lost in our own thoughts/memories while someone is talking to us now.
6. Advising: Jumping to give suggestions or “solutions” rather than simply listening and understanding.
7. Sparring: Invalidating the other person by being argumentative or debating – looking to fight or compete in some way rather than listen.
8. Being right: Ignoring or resisting any evidence that we are wrong and should change – being defensive.
9. Derailing: Immediately changing the subject when something feels threatening or upsetting – “shutting down” what is being said.
10. Placating: Being quick to agree with whatever is being said to end the discussion without really listening to feelings or concerns.
Try writing down situations that come up over the next week when you find yourself having difficulty being truly present and listening. What particular listening blocks do you tend to use? What do you believe your chosen blocks to listening give you? It is important to realize that we engage in these behaviors because it is giving us something – or else we wouldn’t do it!
Think of how the listening block “filtering” allows you to only hear what you want to hear – this is providing a temporary benefit. Or, consider the way that “placating” allows you to get out of an uncomfortable conversation or end an argument quickly – this is also giving you a short-term benefit. We want to begin to work towards active listening so that we may reap the long-term benefits of being fully present with other people. Until we are willing to truly listen to what is being said (including the message behind the message), we miss out on a complete and genuine connection.
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McKay, M., Wood, J.C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: What did you say??? by law_keven / CC BY-SA 2.0