Volume Seven: The Lost Art of Listening

Posted on 05/04/2009


Well, my friends, it’s that time again. It’s time for me to rant about another topic that has been on my mind for a while – really forever – but we’ll say a while to keep it short. Have you ever gotten into an argument with a friend, co-worker, or loved one and spent the entire time repeating, “That’s not what I said…”? Sound familiar? Well, if it does, then you, my friend, have become another victim of people not listening to what you are saying during your discussion/disagreement. This happens to everyone and everybody – even the few of us that believe that we listen well. What can be done to avoid this? Why are people such poor listeners? How can we become better listeners? I plan to address these (and hopefully other) questions with this posting. Will I save you from the aforementioned disagreements? Absolutely not. Nevertheless, I will help you ease the tension and increase the likelihood of resolution in those disagreements.

The Secret to Effective Listening:

Now, I went to graduate school (for Professional Counseling) to learn something I already knew. The secret to effective listening is simple: Get out of your own way. What does that mean? It means that when we listen, we have figurative filters in our heads. The filters are screening for key words or phrases that support (or can be used to support) our side of the discussion. It’s structured much like a debate. Point, then counterpoint. However, unlike debates, in this contest there are no winners. Only losers…

Getting out of your own way means that you temporarily set aside your feelings and try to listen to everything the other person has to say. Your only statements should be questions for more clarification. Why? First, people will tell you everything if you let them talk (whether you want to hear it or not ) . Second, completely listening to someone will soften the language and emotion in their points (this is especially useful in arguments with co-workers and loved ones). Finally, only when someone feels truly heard, will they be open to listening to what you have to say. Just get out of your (and their) way.

Know and Apply The Context

More often than not, the disagreement ignites in us unconscious feelings. It could be feelings about our self-esteem, unresolved feelings from a previous argument, or a relational glitch with the person with whom we are arguing. Either way, the common denominator is that the feelings are ours, and are coming from usnot the other person. Extenuating circumstances aside, we need to focus on the discussion at hand and deal only with that discussion. Bringing up the past only serves to confound and confuse an already combustible situation. Also, we should assume that the person with whom we are arguing cares for us and/or is not deliberately trying to hurt us. Keeping those two things in mind will help to get to the true root of the argument.

What is, or Why do we argue?

An argument is just the result of emotion being injected into miscommunication. Let me say that again. An argument is the result of emotion being injected into miscommunication. The previous section talks about where the emotion comes from. The better and faster we are at removing the emotion from the miscommunication, the faster it will be resolved. Think about your own arguments. They escalated why? Because you acknowledged the other person and y’all stated where the miscommunication occurred? Or, is it because they said or did something that made you even more angry and both the language and emotion of the argument escalated?

I know. I know. It’s impossible to remove emotion from situations. I mean, we are not machines. That’s not what I said (pun intended). What I am saying is that we have to understand the source of the emotion. More than likely it is not this miscommunication, but a series of them that has caused us to make a judgement (filter) about the other person. It is that judgement  that can drive or inject the emotion into the miscommunication. In relationships, the filter becomes expectations or wants versus reality. In our private moments, we know the reality of our relationships. When that is juxtaposed against our expectations or wants, the result can be a negative emotion, like anger or sadness or hurt. Miscommunications are filtered through the anger, sad, or hurt feelings. End result? Argument.


What have we learned today?

1) The definition of good listening is: Getting out of your own way.

2) The emotion we add to an argument is coming from another source, e.g. low self-esteem.

3) An argument is the result of emotion being injected into miscommunication.

4) Removal of personal filters will increase our ability to effectively listen.

5) Self-awareness is key to conflict resolution.

How did a blog about listening morph into a discussion about arguments? I guess it’s because that’s when effective listening becomes most important. If this posting comes across as preachy or (dare I say?) boring; I apologize. I will return to my satirical, whimsical self on my next post. Maybe I just injected some emotion into this post? See how simple that is? I’ll stop now before I start arguing with you…

That’s just my three cents…


“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act.”

Posted in: Relationships