We all know our listening can get shut down. There are people, situations, and circumstances that make us tune out and stop listening. Today’s lesson focuses on what blocks our listening.
It’s Day 5 of the Listening Diet! How’s it going so far? Like any diet, it can be difficult to stay focused and stay motivated. Remember, the results will come by day-to-day attention – and today’s lesson will go a long way towards helping us replace unhealthy talking habits with breakthrough listening skills. When I say, “us”, I mean anyone with a human brain.
You see, the human brain is a wonderfully complex system that can process an unfathomable amount of information. It makes meaning, processes information, discerns stimuli, and does more subconsciously than we’ll ever know. So, aside from the obvious fact we use our brain to listen, what does having such a high cognitive capacity have to do with why we don’t listen?
To explain, let me first introduce the International Listening Association as a terrific resource for information about listening in general. I’m excited to be a member and attend their annual International Listening Conventions. One of the resources the ILA makes available to anyone (i.e. membership not needed), is recordings of past speeches and lectures about listening.
One particular speech, “Listening is a 10-Part Skill,” is by Dr. Ralph Nichols, known by many as the father of listening research. In it, he highlights ten bad listening habits. The ILA posted the speech in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Dr. Nichols shares a ton of useful information in the speech, and I encourage anyone to take time to listen to both parts – it’s informative and entertaining! (Spoiler alert: I’m about to share skill #10, so listen to the whole speech now if you want to get there along with Dr. Nichols!)
Dr. Nichols saves the most important of his ten points for last: our brain can handle much more data than any verbal communication. He describes “Bad Listening Habit #10” as, “Wasting the differential between speech speed and thought speed.” That differential is the gap between the rate at which people speak, and the rate of speaking our brain can handle. On average, we speak 125 words/minute conversationally – and only 100 words/minute if we’re concentrating on what we have to say.
But, how many words per minute do we think ? The “cruising speed of thought,” as Dr. Nichols put it, is about 400 words/minute. This difference between the 125 and 400 has been called the Speech-Thought Gap. We can handle more than three times the data than a conversation is creating for us. Dr. Nichols describes the gap between the 125 and 400 words/minute as a “snare, pitfall, and a delusion. It’s a breeder of false security and a breeder of mental tangents.”
So, what many people joke about as them being distracted, a mad listener, or Attention Deficit Disorder is really just a natural phenomenon: it’s how we’re wired. (Yes, I know for some ADD is a real issue.) You see, our brain takes its excess capacity to think about lots of other things than the words that are being said. What’s it mean? Where’s she going next? What’s that remind me of? Why? These are questions and statements that little voice in our head is saying. Other examples include:
- That’s boring.
- I’m tired.
- Check Facebook.
- What a jerk.
- I’m so angry.
- I agree!
- Remember to buy milk.
- That reminds me of…
- What voice in my head?
- He talks a lot about listening.
These things we think are called Listening Blocks. Listening Blocks are the thoughts, situations, and circumstances that can interrupt, slow, or shut down our listening. We will get into a long list of possible Listening Blocks in the next lesson, but first you can focus on your own mind chatter to identify what Listening Blocks might be present for you.
The exercise for today (and the rest of the month!) is to pay attention to your mind chatter. Pay attention to the voice in your head, the voice that is commenting, judging, analyzing, questioning, enjoying, daydreaming – about what is front of you right now or something completely different! Pay attention to whether your mind chatter is related to the speaker’s content or not. Pay attention to your focus. And, identify where and when you have a Listening Block coming up.
As with each lesson in The Listening Diet, this one comes with a practical download. It’s a simple worksheet to use to keep track of your mind chatter and identify your own Listening Blocks.
Remember, those enrolled will get all 31 worksheets, resources, and practice assignments for just $1/day!
Enroll in The Listening Diet Challenge!
And, members of The Listening Corps already have all of this information available to them when they enroll into that international leadership development network. The Listening Corps focuses on just on listening skills but also on leadership and facilitation skills. Find out more at ListeningCorps.com.
Preview for Tomorrow
In Day 7, I’ll post 150+ examples of what can be blocking our listening.
Thanks for listening!