We’re all guilty of not listening at one point or another in our lives. We tune others out while we’re watching the TV, or trying to concentrate on something we’re reading. Nowadays, we try hard to multi-task between twitter and texting, but inevitably that means we’re not always listening to someone who’s trying to talk to us.
Believe it or not, listening is a skill just like writing or playing football is. That’s good news, because it also means you can learn to listen and be with the person who’s talking to you when they’re talking to you. In the meantime, it helps to understand some of the reasons we don’t listen. By identifying those reasons that ring true, you can then work on improving your listening skills, focusing on being aware of those reasons next time you find yourself not listening.
Awareness itself is not enough, however. You may need to practice “active listening” skills as well, and spend some time and effort in re-learning your normal listening behaviors. Being there when a person is talking to you can be a very rewarding experience, and often can enhance an existing relationship with friends, family, or your significant other.
You take a dualistic position that you are right and the other person is wrong. Dualism supports a preoccupation with proving your point of view. Directly expressing your feelings and thoughts without needing to be “right” allows you to express yourself, and listen to and understand others (without binding your communication to a right/wrong mindset).
You believe that the problem is the other person’s fault. “Owning” your problem (also called problem ownership, which means to take responsibility for it), based on the identification of your needs, is a functional alternative to a “blame-game” (e.g., to attribute to others what may not reflect their personal reality).
3. Need to be a Victim
You feel sorry for yourself and think that other people are treating you unfairly because they are insensitive and selfish. Listening minimizes becoming a voluntary victim or martyr — a position commonly observed when an individual performs tasks for others without their explicit request or approval.
An individual’s behavior can contribute to an interpersonal relationship problem although he or she does not “own” the problem. A “blind spot” prevents an individual from being aware of how her or his behavior affects others. An individual may be evaluated as dogmatic or stubborn. However, the person who’s doing the evaluating could be unaware of her or his tendency to be oppositional with regard to that person’s thoughts and ideas.
You are so fearful of criticism that you cannot listen when someone shares anything negative or unacceptable. Instead of listening and evaluating the perceptions of an individual, you prefer to defend yourself.
6. Coercion Sensitivity
You are uncomfortable with being supervised or given task-related instructions. Without concrete evidence, a position is taken that specific or general others are controlling and domineering; therefore, you must defend yourself.
7. Being Demanding
You feel entitled to better treatment from others, and you get frustrated when they do not treat you in a manner that is consistent with your entitlement. An insistence that they are unreasonable, and should not behave the way they do, negates your ability to understand the probable needs that are met through the other person’s behavior.
You want what you want when you want it, and you become confrontational or defiant when you do not get it. The absence of an interest in what others are probably thinking and feeling is a barrier to listening.
The position of mistrust includes a fundamental belief that others will manipulate you if you listen to them. An absence of empathic understanding prevents you from listening to others.
10. Help Addiction
You feel the need to help people when they need someone to listen to and understand them. The tendency to look for or seek out solutions when others are hurt, frustrated, or angry is viewed as trying to be helpful (even though the speaker did not explicitly request your recommendations or intervention).
Now that you know these reasons, what do you do about it? If you need further ideas for improving your communication skills with your partner, check out these 9 steps to better communication.
Burns, D.D. (1989). The feeling good handbook. New York: William Morrow.