I’m going to suggest that most people are poor (or at best, fair) listeners. If you don’t believe you are a poor listener than consider the list below and might walk away with a different belief. In fact, you might wonder how anyone manages to listen without misunderstanding considering all the hoops we put messages through.
Most people listen from their point-of-view or autobiographically while only a small percentage listen with true empathy. Listening from the speaker’s standpoint takes energy, awareness and understanding. It strikes me as a bit like acting. You need to portray a character but you can’t help bring yourself to the role.
Consider the filters that “color” your listening and decide for yourself whether or not your listening skills could use a little help.
1. Education Level: I bet I have your attention already. Too little education in the eyes of the listener and the incoming communication might run through the “I’m not smart enough “or” they think they are better” filter. Reverse the situation and the thoughts and you can see how much education level affects all listeners.
2. Culture: Ethnicity, customs and traditions are filters that are addressed a bit more openly, as suggested by the popularity of diversity training. Visual components that indicate or suggest a different culture may help the aware listener. He or she could use the clues as a reminder to consider how the speaker’s background might support their viewpoint. Conversely, the unaware listener uses the differences to support their own opinion.
3. Economic Background: The “I worked for everything” listener might use this filter to avoid believing the more “economically advantaged” speaker. Just as the other “message sifters” mentioned, economic background can be a barrier to empathic listening no matter which side of the economic coin you were born on. The film “Slumdog Millionaire” comes to mind as a great example of prejudicial listening.
4. Family Messages: Was your family open and demonstrative or indirect and more formal? Did you receive the message that people are generally good or generally evil? What obvious or subliminal messages did you grow up with? Consider how your viewpoint colors your listening. The challenge here is recognizing that other families may not have grown up the same way you did. Remember the first time you had dinner at a friend’s house? Was the dinner conversation lively and encouraged or were controversial topics hush-hush? Think about it.
5. Birth Order: I admit that as the middle child of seven and the first female my mediating qualities were enhanced. Listening to someone who loves conflict and takes the opposing viewpoint just for fun is a challenge for me. How has being the only, first, last or middle child tinted your listening ability?
These are just five of the filters incoming messages go through before we hear a message. I could have included religion, personality and location but the point remains the same—listening from your audience’s perspective takes an acute awareness of your own filters first.
Practice understanding, become knowledgeable and use attentiveness as the tools to becoming a better listener. Misunderstandings will decrease and you might just learn something.
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