Try this quick quiz. Hands up who’s a good listener. If you are like most people, you will have answered – depends! Depends on what? Generally, it depends on who we are talking to, the subject, our personal interests, our biases, loves or hates. Sometimes we’re tired and other times we are pre-occupied or just plain bored. So what do all these things have in common?
If you are not hearing impaired then here’s a biggie! Hearing is involuntary, since you have been reading this article – every sound external to you has been recorded in your consciousness. The question is – can you recall any of it?
So here’s an important point. Hearing is involuntary – listening on the other hand is totally voluntary. Meaning – you choose to listen or conversely – you choose not to listen! The ‘depends’ response comes down to simple choices based upon your filters.
A filter is a way of describing how we might think about something. Put simply, our brain creates a “database” of mental filters that allow us to make sense of our world. They can help or hinder the interpretation process and consist of likes, dislikes, biases, prejudices, experience, wisdom, perceptions, values, feelings and expectations to name a few.
Understanding what filters control us and what filters aid us, is an important part of becoming a better listener. Remember, listening is a choice that is affected by our filters. But that’s not the entire story.
Who is good at remembering names at social gatherings or at a BBQ? Once again – most people will answer – I’m terrible! So why can’t you remember one person’s name when you are introduced to them? It’s not hard – it is just one word! Although it is only one word, we so often fail this simple but important test of social grace.
Here’s why – you are not present during the introduction. Yes, you are there physically but mentally you are somewhere else. Filters can affect this but more often than not our minds are elsewhere when the critical words are spoken. For a range of reasons we are distracted. We might feel out of place, underdressed, overdressed, worried what others might think, distracted when you notice your best friend has arrived or you observe they are serving a drink you don’t like.
There are a myriad of reasons why our minds wander. This means we are not present when the person’s name is spoken and the words do not register at a conscious level.
Being present requires a disciplined mind. You can practice this today. When you are next introduced to someone, become aware of your thinking and what filters may be in play. Bring your mind to the present situation and the quality of your listening will improve dramatically.