Sometimes, we try very hard to listen to someone, but we may experience various distractions. These distractions vary with the situation. If we are at home, the distractions may include children, noise from the neighbors, television or music. In a work environment, some of the distractions may include loud machinery, team members at work or merely dividing our attention between two or more activities.
When a distraction is physical, we can move to a different location that is more conducive to a focused discussion. Since the physical distractions are more controllable, the challenge is to eliminate some of the mental distractions. Four of these distractions are preoccupation, selective listening, defensive listening and biases.
Here are some techniques that will help you to successfully manage the internal obstacles to effective listening.
Preoccupation – Other thoughts preoccupy us because they are more important than whatever the speaker is saying. We ignore what we’re hearing and concentrate on what’s already there. Arrange the conversation for another time when you can focus on the prospective issue or resolve the issue that has your attention before tackling the new interaction. Ask the individual to share the nature of the concern so you can begin to focus and collect information during the interaction.
Selective Listening – Selective listening is listening to what you want to hear and ignoring those things you don’t want to hear. The more reluctant we are to hear something, the more likely we are to tune it out. Use open ended questions to draw out the information that you need. That will encourage a more thoughtful response and confirm to the listener that you heard and understood their remarks.
Defensive Listening – When our ideas are criticized, we don’t hear everything that is said because we are busy formulating our defense. After listening to the first few critical remarks, we may stop listening so we can concentrate on formulating our exculpatory remarks. One technique that will help you through this difficult situation is to make notes or bullet points that you want the speaker to address. Allow the speaker to respond to your points, one by one, and you can make a better effort to listen and focus on what is being said.
Biased Listening – Our biases rule certain ideas out of contention. Most of us are open-minded, but only to a limited range of ideas. Biases manifest whenever you try to sell a new idea or when someone is trying to persuade you to a different point of view.
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