You may see them everywhere and not realize they have a curable affliction. They are disadvantaged by an invisible ailment that can be reversed and treated without medical or surgical interventions. Unlike other maladies, it is not congenital, contagious or caused by an accident. They have a listening disability.
A listening disability in its simplest and most severe forms does not harm the individual physically, but may affect personal and business relationships and self-confidence. The condition is due to a premeditated lack of concentration or an intentional disregard of the thoughts of the speaker. People are in counseling, frustrated by friends and co-workers, on dysfunctional teams, and in conflict of many kinds because a listening disability is present.
“Listeningitis” becomes chronic when someone’s interests exceed the interests of others. When we fail to consider that there are other ideas or more than one right answer, we may tune out a speaker with valuable information. Listening problems are seen in all relationships, including families
The problems with listening disabilities begin before the listener interacts with the speaker. There may be biases that prevent them from being receptive and giving the respect required for an effective conversation. They may feel superior, believing they are better than the speaker because of position, age, economic status, class, race or gender.
Evidence of Listening disabilities is all around us. The symptoms are:
- Physically and mentally disengaged
- “Speaker Interuptus” –
- Celebrity cruising
- Mouth to mouth combat
- Predatory listening
- Pseudo listening
Physically and mentally disengaged
This is the classic symptom. People are not paying attention to you when you speak. This is seen in their body language. They have poor eye contact; posture is retreating and their facial expressions signals they would rather be in another location. If you could see their minds, you would notice them wanderings all over the planet. If you look into their eyes you may discern the lost look. Waiting for you to finish so they can speak is a common manifestation.
They love to interject comments when you are trying to make a point. At other times, they want to take over the conversation. Sometimes they just want to be involved and feel important. They will often speak at the same time to give a stereophonic effect which is not a harmonious way to conduct a conversation. Dating couples say lovingly, “She completes my sentences.” This can even wear on their nerves over time. Later they can be heard saying, “She won’t let me talk without interrupting me.”
We remember conversations with individuals who made us feel we were not important enough. They wanted to speak to someone better. It is amazing to watch people at meetings with the senior member of the company searching the room for someone more on their level. Also, there are the social climbers who look for someone to help their career and they used you as a place holder until someone more desirable arrived. They are searching for the MVP – the more valuable person to advance their personal agenda.
Mouth to mouth combat
One of my favorite pet peeves is the person who uses every conversation as a competition. They are constantly battling the speaker and preventing them from establishing their point. This mouth to mouth combat is counterproductive for the speaker and anyone in attendance. The stress level rises and the “I can top your story” attitude is visible and uncomfortable for everyone.
The predatory listener views their role as a saboteur. They are probably the most intense listener in the group, except they are listening to catch you in a trap. They look for inconsistencies in your arguments or facts they feel are not true. They are motivated to embarrass you and improve their image. They wait for you to make a point, so they can pounce on it. They want flaws in your arguments, so they can exploit your position. “Gotcha” is their victory cry. Steer clear of these conversation carnivores.
Pseudo listening (false listening)
There is sometimes a faker in your group. Some people only pretend to be fully engaged in the discussion. Sometimes they are quiet and demonstrating all of the signals of the attentive listener. They appear to be practitioners of active listening. They have mastered the observable physical techniques. Their eyes may be locked on the speaker, but their brain may be on a safari, far away. They forfeited their focus by drifting on to other topics.
Facing a Listening Disability
The first step with any disability is acceptance. Secondly, develop a strategy to address the condition. Prior to a listening opportunity you should mentally place the speaker first, give their message priority and plan to listen for agreement or areas of disagreement. It is acceptable to have a difference of opinion. You should care about the speaker or their right to state their opinion. Other points to ensure a successful conversation may involve the following.
- Be attentive – Be present
- Physically engage through body language – mentally and physically
- Use good eye contact, nodding, changes facial expressions, which show engagement
- Ask Questions to show interest and understanding
- Flow with the rhythm of the conversation
- Look for natural points of entry to state your opinion
- Signal your desire to speak
- Minimize interruptions, especially in the middle of a thought
- Declare your intentions to improve with a trusted person or mentor
- Ask for feedback on your participation and progress
Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser