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 Energize Your Communication — Become a Genuine Listener 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

When you listen to me without interruption or anything that feels like a judgement, you allow me the time and space to get more in touch with the many facets of me. Thank you for never playing with my words, getting a laugh or recognition at my expense. When you allow me to revise or restructure what I have said, I feel that you are truly committed to under- standing me and what I’m about. Thank you for not feeling that you necessarily have to do something about what I share. When you listen, I feel that you are listening not only to my words but the feelings behind them. Bless you for being you and thereby assisting me in my journey.

- Bennett Kilpack, MFCC

Barriers to Good Listening
The first step in any process of change is to become aware of what you are presently doing. You are probably not aware of the barriers you habitually put up to block good communication. Look over the list below and identify any barriers that you use.

  • Evaluating and judging. Are you so busy criticizing what the other person is saying that you don’t hear them? There is nothing wrong with using discrimination, but it is more helpful to defer judgment until you fully understand what the other person is talking about.
  • Interrupting. When you don’t allow the other person to complete a thought, you are not listening. Many people interrupt because they are impatient. If you find yourself losing the train of a conversation because the other is talking excessively, ask for a summary and then continue to listen.
  • Jumping to conclusions. It is easy to mentally fill in the details of what another person is saying and then to assume you have understood them. People often take everything they hear personally, which is one of the main reasons for misunderstandings that lead to breakdowns in relationships. You can remedy that tendency by checking out your assumptions first.
  • Selective listening. People tend to hear what they expect to hear, need to hear, or want to hear and block out the rest. For example, if you have been feeling a lack of confidence in yourself lately, you might hear everything that is said to you through a filter of "I’m no good." Or you might tune out everything that is critical, unpleasant, or negative because it is too threatening to hear right now. Keep in mind that everybody uses some form of selective listening. Get to know your form of selectivity and observe your tendency to block listening with it.
  • Advising. You may think that you have to answer every question asked and solve every problem. Not true. The other person may simply be thinking aloud, asking rhetorical questions, or just looking for a supportive presence. In fact, as you share your advice, you may actually be disregarding what the other person is saying. Let others specifically ask for help or advice. Otherwise, just listen and be there. One valuable way to encourage people to solve their own problems is to ask how they would advise a friend with a similar problem.
  • Lack of attention. Do you let your mind wander frequently in conversations, giving in to other external noises and distractions or to your own daydreams or plans? Often it is helpful to be up front about it—admit your temporary lack of attention to the person speaking; explain that you are sleepy, anxious, or whatever. If boredom is the problem, though, remember that the more involved you become in the conversation, the less boring it may be. Ask questions. Ask for examples. Summarize what you hear the other person saying. If all else fails, tell the other person honestly that you need to leave or get back to what you were doing. Good listening need not be a matter of silent endurance. Good listening is an active process.
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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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