Listeners Blog

Monthly Archives: March 2013


Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah

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With cellphones everywhere, we have all heard our share of one-sided conversations. Most of us automatically tune out these days, since we don’t really need to know the dinner plans of the person sitting next to us on the bus. We bring down our personal Cone of Silence to protect ourselves from involuntary eavesdropping.

Unfortunately, we can also carry this defensive inattention with us into the rest of our day. In situations where people are wearing headsets or Bluetooth devices, it might even be difficult to know whether we are supposed to be part of a face-to-face conversation, so we start listening only for clues about when we are expected to answer. We stop trying to hear what might not be important to us, ignoring that being heard might be extremely important to the person speaking.

Remember the old Far Side cartoon where the man was trying to teach his dog a trick, but all the dog heard was her name: “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah”? Staying on the surface of conversations creates a similar attitude, which makes it difficult to recognize when someone is trying to bring up an important subject, let alone respond appropriately.

We should all check in with ourselves throughout the day to be sure that we are really listening not just to the words other people are saying but to the meaning they are trying to communicate. Especially if they are actually talking to us.



Never too close to comfort

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Of all the ills that beset mankind in the 21st century, the cruelest must be Alzheimer’s disease. It robs its victims of the most precious gift of advancing age – the companionship of family and friends – by taking away the ability to have meaningful conversations.

Modern research is focused on finding the causes and perhaps a cure for or at least a way to lessen or postpone the advancement of Alzheimer’s, but it has been with us for a very long time. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes our return to “second childishness and mere oblivion” as we age.

Amid the challenges and frustrations of daily caregiving for spouses or parents or grandparents suffering from dementia, it is important to take the time to follow them on their conversational journeys. The first step is to let go of your own need to keep them connected to the real world or grounded in the present.

Does it really matter that your mom thinks you are your sister, and talks like you’re not in the room? Depending on family dynamics, it might be hurtful, but what is there to be gained from an argument? Nothing but resentment on your part, since she won’t understand – or remember.

Instead, take a deep breath and think back to the patience she had when you were just learning to talk, listening to you tell the same story over and over until you got it right (for you). Maybe she even held conversations with your imaginary friends, because she knew they were real and important to you.

It may be time to return the favor, and use your active listening skills, your empathy and understanding, to let her know you’re there, no matter when or where she thinks that is. She may not appreciate it, but in the long run, you will.



How meetings go bad when no one is listening

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A properly planned and executed meeting can be an excellent way to communicate information and share ideas. But many employees dread them as unproductive time sinks — and they might be right. Research shows that half of the hours spent in the 11 million business meetings that happen every day in the United States is actually wasted on off-topic discussions. One of the most common time-wasters are people who won’t listen without making assumptions about what the speaker is saying, and insist on interrupting and offering advice without fully understanding what the speaker needs. If an individual with poor listening skills is allowed to hijack a discussion, the result can be a ripple effect of negativity on an entire team.

Imagine that, in the weekly meeting, a member of a team voiced concern that her current project seemed to have hit a wall. Before she could finish describing the problem, however, another member jumped in with a lengthy monologue about how he had solved similar problems in the past and just had to have the last word — all related to his experience, not to the project at hand.

The junior member soon stopped trying to talk, frustrated and without a resolution. Meanwhile, the rest of the group had turned their attention to emails, texts and other activities, because they knew that once this person had the floor, there was no hope of arriving at any useful decision.

The first step to avoiding this worst-case scenario is to start the meeting with all electronic devices stacked on the table, to be touched only to research a point relevant to the discussion. That will keep everyone invested in listening to everyone else and offering relevant input.

In our example, the manager should bring the conversation back to the junior member by asking how the group could help her, including the senior manager, who has already offered his ideas. Anyone running a meeting has the authority of the chair to provide a platform to anyone who might feel they are not being heard. When everyone can both express themselves and truly listen, any meeting can become more productive.



Focus your mind to find your inner truth

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There can be many reasons why you feel that you haven’t been truly heard. Perhaps instead of listening, people you talk to insist on giving you advice, or judging you for having an issue. Perhaps you have felt people spend more time thinking about their reply than to what you are saying.

Or perhaps you are having a problem focusing on your real issues. Every time you try to start a meaningful conversation, you get sidetracked into generalities or wind up talking about what’s important to the other person because you talk around what is really bothering you, especially if it is deeply painful. Even the most empathetic listener has a hard time hearing what isn’t said.

Before you ask someone to help you find your inner truth by listening, find a quiet place where you can take some time to think about the major issues you need to resolve. What is causing you the most stress and anxiety? How do you see yourself in the current situation? Are you willing to embrace whatever self-revelations you may find on your journey?

Once you focus your mind, you will be able to focus the conversation on what you need to hear from yourself. The capacity for self-insight, problem solving and growth resides inside you, but only if you are brave enough to confront your real issues and talk them through.