Listening Skills

Most of us think we are good listeners.  We also tend to think that others should be hearing us.  But, how many times in the last month did you experience being totally “heard,” or “gotten” by another human being.  If you are like most people, it just doesn’t happen as much as we would like.  Basically, we all want to be heard and understood.  So, what is the big trick to listening?  In the simplest model, communication is:

Information IN – Information OUT

You talk.  I listen.

Pretty simple so far?  Believe it or not; “listening” is a serious field of study at major universities.  You might think you already know a lot about how to listen.  However, you probably have also had the frustrating experience of not being heard.; maybe by someone very close to you in life.  ‘Listening’ researchers point out that good listeners’ are as much focused upon listening as they are on speaking.  Listening, in fact, includes the whole biofeedback loop between sender and receiver in a communication.

We’ve all heard a story about a man who can tell his wife exactly what she just said, but according to her, “he just does not listen.”   As another example, you’ve probably had a question about a billing dispute and called ‘Customer Service’ only to find that the person on the other end of the telephone did not understand your issue and was trying to solve some other problem.  And, how many times in the last month did you experience being totally “heard,” or “gotten” by another human being.  If you are like most people, it just doesn’t happen as much as we would like.

Listening is more than just hearing

When I talk about “listening” in business training seminars, I am not talking about simply what a person hears.  I am talking about what it takes for you to make sure the other person in the communication experiences being heard.  I am talking about the whole communication cycle.

Consider the NLP Presupposition, “The meaning of your communication is the response you get.”  MEANING is not a function of your intention, but rather is a function how effectively you communicate to make sure the meaning is understood.  In Cognitive Psychology, the most basic model of communication is: Information IN -Information OUT.  You talk.  I listen.  Pretty simple so far, right?

Now, let’s expand the model. Somewhere between Info In and Info Out, we somehow find ways to make sense of the thousands of messages we are exposed to on a daily basis.  We take information in via our Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (feeling) channels.  This information is processed through the brain and nervous system.  And we make an Internal Representation about what the information means to us.  OK!  

Next level of complexity.  (And, somewhat outside the realm of NLP and into Listening Theory)  Basic human programming allows us to be very good at sizing situations up quickly.  From the evolutionary point of view, if there is a tiger on the path, we have to know instinctively if it is hungry and in search of food or not and survival depends on what we do next; run for cover, or just  keep on walking down the path. 

Problem is we size people up very quickly and misinterpret the clues available to us.  Usually that is a good thing to size things up quickly, and sometimes it is limiting.  Occasionally, we make mistakes about people.  AND, once we get an idea of how a person is, then it is very difficult to change our opinion of that person.

Ladies (and men), do you know a man who is a womanizer.  If you do, how do you know?  Well, you have evidence, don’t you?  Maybe someone told you about this person and pretty soon you saw that man out with an attractive woman.  The very next day when you see that man talking with a different woman.  What is the first thought that comes to mind?  Don’t you assume that the two are together in some romantic manner. 

The problem is that, as humans, once we decide that a person is a certain way, it is very difficult to change our view.  We also make up ideas about people based on gross generalizations or stereotypes.  We all experience the world through our own unique set of filters. 

If you are told that a person is a policeman, what generalizations do you make about what the person is like?  If someone you know is an alcoholic, how likely are you to believe they will stop drinking just because they say they will?  If you find out that a woman is from the South, what do think that person will be like?  What are your beliefs about people who are from New York, or California, or Canada, or Texas?  When you have an idea that a person is hardheaded and that they never listen, how do you begin to behave around that person?  Are you more careful?  Do you become more forceful, or avoid confrontations with them? 

And what if the person changes?  How much room do you have to experience that person in a new and different way?  I say there is a cost to the compensating behaviors we have in response to our own belief mechanisms toward others and even toward ourselves.  All this, I consider as inside the concept of “listening.”  

For most people, beliefs about “how people are” operates at such a deep emotional level in our programming and we are often not aware we are making value judgments about other people.  For the individual, the value judgment is the TRUTH.

It does not occur to us as a viewpoint or even as a belief about the other person.  In addition, we tend to believe that everyone else sees that person the same way we do, as if it should be obvious to anyone.  In a business environment, this is a big problem.

The people in a particular company all have to work together.  Ideally, you expect there to be a commitment of team members to each other.  That is one of the marks of an exceptional team and leads to exceptional achievement.  Unfortunately, it is not often the way things really are.  A common example is the manager with a particularly strong personality who holds a particular view about things.  People are often afraid to express themselves and speak up about other viewpoints they may hold.  Creativity suffers. 

People who are not being heard tend to develop blaming behaviors and relationships deteriorate.  People feel they have no room to express themselves and productivity suffers.  The manager, and therefore the company, does not listen.  Stress increases, engagement suffers, that things like ‘sick leave’ and other costs escalate.

There are lots of examples of this.  It is hard to say that this behavior mechanism is necessarily bad or wrong.  Forming strong opinions about how people are is rooted in our basic nature as humans and is a defense mechanism.  On an evolutionary basis, when the tiger crossed your path in the jungle, you had to make a very rapid decision about whether the tiger is hungry and whether it is looking at you. Otherwise, you did not survive in the food chain.  It is about survival at the deep, emotional level of who we are.

The bigger question is, “How do we break down the automatic nature of our natural pattern-making behavior when we find that it is limiting our effectiveness and the quality of relationships?” 

The goal is freedom of choice about our) behavior.  Too often, we just respond automatically.  Over 4 or 5 days in an NLP business seminar, there is ample time to mine the collective experience of the team or group involved and to entrain (install) new behaviors.  Assuming that you are now becoming aware of areas where your intention to listen has fallen short, just becoming aware and examining the areas of your life where you might make new choices is valuable.  In addition, you can call for a private consultation or inquire about a training program for yourself personally or for your business. 

You can also find specific patterns that will help in my book, The Life-Change Patterns of NLP.  However, for the purposes of what we can do right here, right now, consider that one aspect of limiting listening is dealing with your LIMITING BELIEFS about yourself and others.  NLP offers patterns that are designed to change limiting beliefs and adopt resourceful behaviors.  If you have attempted to make a particular change in your life and you have fallen short, you may have been trying to make a change that is inconsistent with your deeper level beliefs about who you are.  Consider getting some outside facilitation in this case.


To learn about an NLP Coaching Agreement or to schedule a training program, I can be reached at 602 321-7192 or you can go to the website www.nlpskills.com


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