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5 Common Listening Problems

Here are some common listening problems, and some ways you can prevent or resolve them:

1. You get distracted during the conversation and start doing other things. Try to minimize distractions before the conversation starts. Turn computer monitors or televisions off (or turn away from them) and put cell phones in silent mode and out of sight. Facing the speaker can also serve as a reminder of the task at hand and keep you focused on the conversation.

2. Your mind wanders and you realize you’ve missed everything that the other person has said. As soon as possible, let the speaker know what has happened. You might say something like, “I’m so sorry. I was woolgathering and missed what you were saying. Could you go through it one more time?”

3. You start judging the person and evaluating what they are saying. To avoid this trap, try to get into a good mindset before the conversation. If you catch yourself labeling and evaluating (by thinking something like, “Wow, she really shouldn’t be so upset over this”), reframe your thoughts to be more objective (by thinking something like, “Wow, she sounds very upset over this”). You can also use paraphrasing techniques to make sure you’re getting the facts right.

4. You interrupt the speaker and offer your opinion or advice. To avoid offering unsolicited advice, try having a clear understanding of what the person wants. If you aren’t sure of what they want, preface your offering by saying something like, “I can offer you my two cents, but only if you want to hear it.” If you find yourself offering your opinion when the speaker hasn’t asked for it, apologize and return the conversation to them using questions and paraphrasing techniques. (For example, you could say something like, “I’m sorry that I got us off track. You were talking about how difficult the merger has been for you, especially since you started working on Bob’s team.”)

5. The speaker goes off on a tangent and you don’t understand the point they are making. When the speaker finishes what they are saying, use open questions, summary questions, and paraphrasing to recap what they have said and bring it together. Be sure to ask, “Have I got it right?” to confirm that you have received the message correctly.

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