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How we don’t listen

How we don't listen


In last months article we spoke about how organisations learn and identified support, challenge and sincerity as key management components that enable learning to take place. A way that managers and leaders can demonstrate support and challenge is to demonstrate that they are listening. We can improve our listening skills when we have an awareness and understanding of some of the common behaviours that we use when we are not listening effectively.

The following blocks to listening are not always unhelpful. In some situations they may be effective at helping an individual achieve a particular result. The key to their effectiveness is to be aware of when and why you are using them.


When you are rehearsing you are giving your attention to designing and preparing your next comment. You may look interested but your focus is what you are going to say next. Some people rehearse a whole chain of responses: ‘I will say x, he will say y so l will respond by saying…………. and he will then say……….and then I can use the…………


Negatively labelling people can be extremely limiting. If you prejudge someone as incompetent, for example, then you may not pay them much attention and are likely not to listen to them. A basic rule of listening is that judgements should only be made after you have heard and evaluated the content of the message of the other person.


When we identify we take everything people say to us and refer it back to our own experience. They want to tell you about their lack of resources but that reminds you of when you had less resources than they had at the moment. You therefore launch into your story before they can finish theirs.


You are a great problem solver. You do not have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin to search for the right advice to give whether it was asked for or not. However, whist you are coming up with your advice and suggestions and convincing the other person to try it you may have missed the most important point. Also, by advising rather then questioning the other you are not enabling them to learn.


This is where you argue and debate with people who never feel heard because you are quick to disagree. In fact, you main focus is on finding things to criticise or disagree with.

Being right

Being right means you will go to great lengths (twist the facts, make excuses or accusations) to avoid being wrong. You cannot listen to feedback, you cannot be corrected and you cannot take suggestions to change.


This is where you suddenly change the subject, move to another topic or joke.


This is where you want to popular and nice so you agree with everything. You may half listen just enough to get the drift but you are not really involved.

The first step to improving our listening is to have a good insight into what you can do or stop doing in order to improve.


DISCLAIMER: This article is general ONLY in nature and is not advice

Ian Wardle has a first degree in Social Sciences, a Masters degree in Human Resource Development and a Certificate in Counselling and was formerly a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

For more information contact Ian at or +61 3 8862 6315