Blocks to Listening

There are MANY blocks to listening. You will find that some are old favourites that you use over and over. Others are held in reverse for certain types of people or situations. Everyone uses listening blocks, so you shouldn’t worry if a lot of blocks are familiar. This is an opportunity for you to become more aware of your blocks at the time you actually use them.

  1. Comparing

Comparing makes it hard to listen because you’re always trying to assess who is smarter, more competent, more emotionally healthy – you or the other. Some people focus on who has suffered more, who’s a bigger victim, etc. While someone’s talking, you think of yourself: “Could I do it that well?…” I’ve had it harder, he doesn’t know what hard is.. I earn more than that… My kids are so much brighter.” You can’t let much in because you’re too busy seeing if you measure up.

2. Mind Reading

The mind reader doesn’t pay much attention to what people say. In fact, he often distrusts it. He’s trying to figure out what the other person is REALLY thinking and feeling. “She/He/They said they want to go to the show, but I’ll bet she/he/they are tired and wants to relax. She/He/They might be resentful if I pushed her/him/Them when she/he/they doesn’t want to go.” The mind reader pays less attention to words than to intonations and subtle cues in an effort to see through the truth.

If you are a mind reader, you probably make assumptions about how people react to you. ” I bet they are looking at my lousy skin..He think I’m stupid.. She’s turned off by my shyness.” These notions are born of intuition, hunches, and vague misgivings, but have little to do with what the person actually says to you.

3. Rehearsing

You don’t have to listen when you’re rehearsing what to say. Your whole attention is on the preparation and crafting of your next comment. You are a master of LOOKING interested and engaged. You have to look interested, but your mind is going a mile a minute because you’ve got a story to tell, or a point to make. Some people rehearse whole chains of responses. “I’ll say, then he’ll say, then I’ll say.” And so on. (You have a point to make and aren’t so much as listening than you are of waiting your turn to speak.)

4. filtering

When you filter you listen to some things and not to others. You pay only enough attention to see if somebody’s angry, or unhappy, or if you’re emotional danger. Once assured that the communication contains none of those things, you let your mind wander. One woman listens just enough to her son to learn whether he is fighting again in school. Relieved to hear he isn’t, she begins to think about her shopping list. A young man quickly ascertains what kind of mood his girlfriend is in. If she seems happy as she describes her day, his thoughts begin wandering.

Another way people filter is simple to avoid hearing certain things – particularly anything threatening, negative, critical, or unpleasant. It’s as if the words were never said: You simply have no memory of them.

5. Judging

Negative labels have enormous power. If you prejudge someone as stupid or nuts or unqualified, you don’t pay much attention to what they say. You’ve already written them off. Hastily judging a statement as immoral, hypocritical, fascist, pinko, or crazy means you’ve ceased to listen and have begun a “knee-jerk” reaction. A basic rule of listening is that judgements should only be made after you have heard and evaluated the content of the message.


6. Dreaming/ Mind Wandering

You’re half-listening, and something the person says suddenly triggers a chain of private associations. Your neighbor says she’s been laid off, and in a flash you’re back to the scene where you got fired for playing hearts on those long coffee breaks. Hearts is a great game; there were the great nights of hearts years ago on Sutter Street. And you’re gone, only to return a few minutes later as your neighbour says, “I knew you’d understand, but don’t tell my husband.”


7. Identifying

In this block, you take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your own experience. They want to tell you about a toothache, but that reminds you of the time you had oral surgery for receding gums. You launch into your story before they can finish theirs. Everything you hear reminds you of something that you’ve felt, done, or suffered. You’re so busy with those exciting takes of your life that there’s no time to really hear or get to know the person.


8. Advising

You are the great problem-solver, ready with help and suggestions. You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice. However while you are cooking up suggestions ad convincing someone to “just try it,” you may miss acknowledging the person’s pain. He/She/They still feels basically alone because you couldn’t listen and just be there.


9. Sparring

This block has you arguing and debating with people. The other person never feels heard because you’re so quick to disagree. In fact, a lot of your focus is on finding things to disagree with. You take strong stands, and are very clear about your beliefs and preferences. The way to avoid sparring is to repeat back and acknowledge what you’ve heard. Look for one thing you might agree with.

One subtype of sparring is the put-down. You use sarcastic remarks to dismiss the other person’s point of view. For example, Sam starts telling Kai about problems they are having in biology class. Kai says, “When are you going to have brains enough to drop that class?” Jess is feeling overwhelmed with the noise from the TV. When Jess tells Ash, they say, “Oh god, not the TV routine again.” The put-down is the standard block to listening in many marriages. It quickly pushes the communication into stereotype patterns when each person repeats a familiar hostile litany.

A second type of sparring is discounting. Discounting is for people who can’t stand compliments. “Oh I didn’t do anything.. What do you mean, I was totally lame..It’s nice of you to say but it’s really a very poor attempt.” The basic technique of discounting is to run yourself down when you get a compliment. The other person never feels that you really heard their appreciation. And they are right- you didn’t.


10. Being Right

Being right means you will go to any lengths (twists the facts, start shouting, make excuses or accusations, call up past sins) to avoid being wrong. You can’t listen to criticism, you can’t be corrected, and you can’t take suggestions to change. Your convictions are unshakable. And since you won’t acknowledge that your mistakes are mistakes, you just keep making them.

11. Derailing

This listening block is accomplished by suddenly changing the subject. You derail the train of conversation when you get bored or uncomfortable with a topic. Another way of derailing is by joking it off. This means that you continually respond to whatever is said with a joke or quip in order to avoid the discomfort or anxiety in seriously listening to the other person.


12. Placating

“Right..right..Absolutely..I know..Of course you are… Incredible.. Yes.. Really?” You want to be nice, pleasant, supportive. You want people to like you, so you agree with everything. You may half-listen, just enough to get the drift, but you’re not really involved. You are placating rather than tuning in and examining what’s being said.

You’ve read the blocks, and you probably have an idea of which ones apply to you. In the space provided, list blocks that seem typical of the ways you avoid listening.


13. Message Overload

The amout of speech most of us encounter every day makes careful listening to everything we hear impossible. We often spend five hours a day or more listening to people talk.


14. Preoccupation

Another reason we don’t always listen carefully is that we’re often wrapped up in personal concerns that are of more importance to us than the messages others are sending. It’s hard to listen to another when you are anticipating an upcoming test or thinking about the wonderful thing you had last evening with friends.

15. Rapid Thought

Listening carefully is also difficult for a physiological reason. Although we’re capable of understanding speech at rate up to 600 words per minute, the average person speaks between 100 and 150 words per minute. Thus, we have a lot of “spare time” to spend with our minds while someone is talking.


Reference: OTMH, Oakville, ON.


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