Recently I read of a married couple who were walking through the shopping centre. The wife was explaining to her husband why a certain brand was more beneficial than another, when her husband jumped in to recommend a third brand. The wife never acknowledged his input and continued with her explanation. It was obvious that her husband was offended by this and accused her of deliberately ignoring him; to which his wife replied “I wouldn’t ignore you if you’d only stop interrupting me”

Often when we are engaged in conversation, something will occur to us and we just want to get our thoughts across to the other person. We never consider that it is bad manners to interrupt someone else’s thoughts; and surely we could remember our scintillated bit of information long enough to listen to what is being said to us all the way through.

This kind of listening – only paying attention until some word or phrase triggers our thought process, and then to wait in eager anticipation to get a word in edgeways – is known as pseudo-listening, which is a poor imitation of the real thing. We give the impression that we are listening, we can even nod and smile at certain times; but behind the façade of polite interest is a seething mass of thoughts which have nothing to do with the conversation underway.

Another type of artificial listening is the hog – the hog is only interested in his own ideas, and has no interest at all in what you think. If you are lucky you may be able to get a word in when they pause for breath, but otherwise be prepared to be spoken to, rather than spoken with.

And what about the well known selective listener – the ones that only listen to the bits that they want to hear. They already have their opinion fixed and are not interested in anything that may rock their boat. Most of us are selective listeners at some time or other; we screen out what we consider unimportant noise so that we can give our attention to what we consider to be important. When talking on the telephone we can fade out the sound from the television. This is an important skill to remain focused in a very noisy world, but when the conversation is held between two people we should not switch off from what they are saying just because it may not agree with our point of view.

Another type of listener which is an extension of selective listening, is the re-shaper listener. This listener has usually formed their ideas from information that they have heard in the past and any new information has to be squeezed, pushed, chopped and mutilated to conform to what is our belief. A re-shaper listener doesn’t want to be challenged or forced to reconsider their ideas and opinions, so if they can’t selectively tune it out, new information must conform to old ideas.

The most worrying of all to deal with is the defensive listener. These take innocent remarks as a personal attack; or a threat to their authority. Teenagers are the best example of defensive listeners, and parents may find themselves in an all-out brawl by merely asking who was at the party! It is safe to assume that defensive listeners are usually insecure and avoid admitting this by projecting their own insecurities onto others.

Have you ever been ambushed? Have you ever thought someone is really interested in what you have to say? They have obviously listened very carefully to you, and you are pleased that seem to understand your point of view – and then ….attack! They are off on the offensive using all your carefully gathered information to destroy your ideas. These remind me of TV prosecuting counsels.

And finally – have you met the insensitive listener yet? People often find it difficult to express their thoughts or feeling openly, but reveal them by subtle use of words or gestures. Insensitive listeners are unable to decode the subtle message and concentrate on what was said rather than what might be the underlying message. For instance a greeting such as “How are you today” doesn’t mean I am waiting to hear all the news on the state of your health, it is merely an opening remark to institute a conversation. An insensitive listener may take you at your word and actually give you a blow by blow description, leaving you slightly depressed.

Fortunately, while listening can be a difficult skill, most of us manage just fine. If we can be conscious of some of the ways in which we can fall into the trap of being a discourteous listener we can soon school ourselves to be attentive and focused, and then when we do get a word in edgeways we should be listened to equally courteously – it’s called having a conversation.

Michele @ Trischel

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