(Archive - Week of April 18, 2004)

Some folks have no listening skills

I thought of someone this past week that died many years ago. He was very knowledgeable, but thinking about this person (whom I'll call “John” for this column) made me wonder why I always dreaded talking with him.

Later, I stumbled across some articles on the Web, and I realized that John had a nasty habit of finishing my sentences, interrupting me at every turn and rambling on and on. It really was annoying.

I discovered from what I read that these habits are all too common. Seems they are the result of poor listening skills, which are a vital part of communicating effectively.

The following tips, adapted from various Internet sources and the book “Listening: The Forgotten Skill,” by Madelyn Burley-Allen, are ways to stem the tide of resentment and talking to no avail.

* Don't complete their sentences. Even if it seems they are rambling, let them finish. Besides, completing someone's sentences requires you to think one step ahead of the other person. That can be exhausting.

* On the flip side to that, don't ramble; keep your examples to a minimum. (Something that I could do better.)

* Be cautious of paranoid people who will ask questions and argue with your answers. A good name for them is turkey (gobble … gobble … gobble) – lunatics are out there. These sick folks are in bad need of a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

* Be patient and lean forward, if you're seated, to show you're interested. Body language speaks volumes about how you feel or what you think about the topic at hand.

* Don't interrupt. (A skill I also need to work on.)

* Get rid of distractions – turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, etc. When appropriate or important, let the phone ring. Face the person and make eye contact. It shows respect for them and what they are saying.

* Don't glance at your watch while they are talking.

* Don't jump to conclusions. Instead ask good questions, encouraging the other person to tell you more. “What happened next?”

* Ask their opinion to involve them. This works well if you finish your through and all you get is silence. (Avoid this, I have learned, if you usually do not like what they have to say.)

* Pay attention, and don't change the subject. You can do this by making verbal responses such as “I see,” “Really,” and “Uh – huh.” (Be aware that some people can use these types of responses and actually tune you out completely. If you suspect that is happening, ask their opinion.)

* When they are done telling their story, rephrase and repeat what you heard. “What I hear you saying is …” This will clear up things you may have misheard, and show them that you were not just hearing them.

* God gave you two ears and one mouth for a good reason. Listen twice as much as you talk.

As for John, he probably just wanted a friend who would listen to him. I wish I had done that.


“Congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says nothing. Nobody listens – and then everybody disagrees.”
––– BORIS MARSHALOV, a Russian observer, after visiting the U.S. House of Representatives (1947)


One clear sign of aging:Serendipity isn't what it used to be!


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