Having too much internal noise going on in your mind hinders your ability to be a highly effective listener. After watching this video you will be able to identify the top five listening challenges most people face and apply filters that will ease those challenges and serve to make your mind less cluttered.
- There's a lot going on in our heads when we try to listen attentively. Sometimes the hard drive is just filled up, or sometimes we're too tired to follow along. As Tatiana and I coach professionals to be effective communicators, we have found that when it comes to listening challenges, five specific ones make the top of the list, mental filters, multitasking, distraction by delivery, information overload, and inappropriate response. We'll begin with mental filters because this is the most pervasive problem to good listening. Think for a moment of the oil filter in your car or the furnace filter in your home. These filters keep the bad stuff from getting into your engine or your heating system. But when a filter gets a little dirty, it actually starts to hurt more than it helps. Similarly, our brains have mental filters. These filters automatically sift through the vast amounts of information we're bombarded with at any given moment, and it attempts to sort, organize, prioritize, and make sense of it all. When I'm here in the recording studio, my brain knows to filter out automobile sounds from outside or people talking in the hallway, even someone on the set rustling papers. My mental filter knows to allow in the voice of my director saying, "Stop, let's try that again." If I were standing in the middle of a busy street, my mental filter would know that those automobile noises suddenly are a top priority and deserve my attention. When Tatiana says, "Hey, you want to grab lunch?" my filter kicks in and recognizes that she is speaking metaphorically. She doesn't want me to literally grab my food. So my filters can be useful in sorting and understanding the world around me. Yet as with the filters on our appliances and our vehicles, if my filter isn't clean, I start to experience some problems. Like a coffee filter, water goes in, but by the time it filters through the grinds, voila, we have coffee, very different substance. Sometimes when my filter is filled up with coffee grinds, you may say, "Water," but I may hear, "Coffee," and now you an I are experiencing a communication breakdown. These filters develop over time as we gain certain educational and professional expertise. We sometimes start to look at all the world through the lenses of our own experiences. An example of this was when a friend's father was transported to the hospital by ambulance when he had a heart issue. After being in the hospital for a day or two, the heart seemed to be stable, but he continued to complain about pain in his foot. The cardiologist assumed that the heart wasn't pumping well enough to provide circulation to the foot. Another specialist thought that dad's diabetes was acting up and causing pain in the foot. And yet another doctor had another idea unique to his area of expertise. Finally, a nurse asked, "Sir, have you hit your foot on anything recently?" And sure enough, her question reminded the man that the door of the ambulance had bumped his foot when he was brought to the hospital days ago. Sure enough, a simple X-ray showed a fracture to the foot caused by the door. The filters of each of these brilliant doctors made it easy for them to look for what they expected to see, what the normally see. Here's another example. Take a quick look at these triangles and read aloud the words in the middle triangle. Ready? Go. Did you say, "Snake in the grass"? If so, read it again. Read it carefully. It actually says, "Snake in the the grass." But because we've heard the first expression, we tend to see what we expect to see. Likewise when listening, we tend to hear what we expect to hear, whether or not that's what the speaker had to say. Our mental filters need a good cleaning if we react to certain words, phrases, or topics because they are hot buttons for us emotionally. Our cherished notions, our strong convictions, and our assumptions about reality can end up clouding our ability to listen openly and without preconceived bias. So whether filters are caused by previous experiences or deep-held beliefs, we need to be able to set aside our assumptions long enough to listen, and listen to understand. If you catch yourself mentally or actually finishing someone's sentences, or if you find yourself crafting your refutation in your mind as you listen, recognize these red flags for what they are, your mental filters in desperate need of a good cleaning.
- Define attentive listening.
- Explore what happened when you are distracted by delivery.
- Recall what a mental filter is and how it can affect assumptions.
- Explore methods for choosing the best paraphrasing response in the situation.
- List the five listening intentions.