Barriers to Effective Listening

The “bored listener” has heard it all before. When Mr. J rehashes complaints about his job, Mrs. J says to herself, “Here we go again,” and puts her brain in neutral. Yet on occasion when Mr. J says something new and looks for support and encouragement from his wife he isn’t likely to get it.

A “selective listener” picks out bits and pieces of conversation that interest him and rejects the rest. For instance, a husband may be watching the six o’clock news while his wife is talking. Most of what she says goes in one ear and out the other, but when she mentions spending money he becomes all ears. Other people do not want to hear anything disagreeable, upsetting, or different—Ernie’s behavior at school or more expenses on the car. We do not gain anything by rejecting what we do not wish to hear. In many situations we need all the facts in order to make a decision.

A “defensive listener” twists everything said into a personal attack on self. One wife casually remarked to her husband that the new dress lengths left her with nothing to wear. Although she never mentioned purchasing a new wardrobe, he flew into a rage because he felt that her remarks were directed toward a lack of his ability to earn a living. A hurt wife gave her husband the “silent treatment” all evening because she felt that his disgust with the children’s table manners was a personal attack on her ability to train them properly.

“Interrupters” spend their time not listening to what is being said but in forming a reply. Interested only in their own ideas, they pay little attention to the words of others and wait only for a split second when they can break in with, “Oh, that’s nothing. You should hear what happened to me.” Or, “That reminds me of…”

Another hazard is the “insensitive listener”—one who cannot catch the feeling or emotion behind words. One young wife asks her husband to take her out to dinner. She does not need to be taken out to dinner as much as she needs reassurance that he still loves her and is willing to make the effort to please her. If he tells her bluntly that they can’t afford it or he is too tired, he hasn’t listened to the meaning behind her request.

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