Why Don’t You Listen to Me!

Have you ever been having an important conversation, in which the other person is telling you something you need to know, and while you know you should give your full attention to what’s being said, you just can’t stop thinking about that annoying sound of static coming from a nearby radio? Or you can’t stop watching the other person shaking their knee? Or you feel compelled to answer every phone call that comes in to your cell?

Everyone’s attention has been drawn away from important exchanges now and then – but not everyone realizes how detrimental this is to effective communication. Too often, people simply allow the distraction to persist, and lose out on valuable information. Therefore, you must eliminate noise and distractions in order to be an effective listener and communicator. These barriers may be in the environment, like noises in the room, other people talking, poor acoustics, bad odors, extreme temperatures, an uncomfortable chair, or visual distractions. Or they could be physical disruptions such as telephone calls or visitors.

Another kind of barrier is something distracting about the speaker. Maybe he or she dresses oddly, shows poor grooming, and has disturbing mannerisms, confusing facial expressions, or body language. Or perhaps he or she has a thick accent or an unappealing presentation style.

Yet another barrier has to do with you, the listener, and can be either physical or psychological. Maybe it’s close to lunch or quitting time, and you’re preoccupied with how you feel. You’re hungry or tired, or angry, or maybe have a cold or a toothache. If so, you’re not going to be listening fully.

Another physical barrier could be your proximity to the speaker. If he or she’s either too close or too far away from you, you may feel uncomfortable and have a hard time concentrating.

A another sort of internal barrier is psychological. Perhaps you’re closed-minded to new ideas or resistant to information that runs contrary to your beliefs and values. Or maybe you’re bored, or daydreaming, or jumping to conclusions.

There are five basic reasons we fail to listen well. First, listening takes effort. As I said, it’s more than just keeping quiet. It means really concentrating on the other person. An active listener registers increased blood pressure, a higher pulse rate, and more perspiration. Because it takes so much effort, a lot of people just don’t listen.

Second, there’s now enormous competition for our attention from radio, TV, movies, computers, books and magazines, and much more. With all these incoming stimuli, we’ve learned to screen out information we deem irrelevant. Unfortunately, we also screen out things that are important.

The third reason why we don’t listen well is that we think we already know what someone is going to say. We assume that we have a full understanding right from the start, so we jump in and interrupt. We don’t take the time required to hear people out.

The fourth reason has to do with the speed gap – the difference between how fast we talk and how fast we listen. The average person speaks at about 135 to 175 words a minute, but comprehends at 400 to 500 words a minute. For the person who’s not listening well, that’s plenty of time to jump to conclusions, daydream, plan a reply, or mentally argue with the speaker. At least that’s how poor listeners spend the time.

And the fifth reason we don’t listen well is because we don’t know how. We do more listening than speaking, reading, or writing. But I bet you’ve never had a course in listening, have you?

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