The Six Interruptions of Listening

Recently I was talking with a leader who I’ve worked with for nearly a decade. I would classify him as a friend, not just a colleague. During our conversation he provided me some feedback about how I could improve my performance. I immediately started to explain myself and some of my behaviors. He stopped me and said, “Now you’re just being a defender”. This took me back for a minute, and I asked him what he meant when he said that. He explained that at times when someone sends me a message that I don’t like, I am likely to defend, explain or rationalize my behavior to others. I thought for a moment about what he shared and instead of defending myself I decided to heed his feedback and try something different. So I responded, “Thank you. That was good feedback. I think this is a blind spot for me.” Although I wasn’t sure I saw this as a pattern, I was sure I wanted to be more aware moving forward.

Later that same day I was talking with my husband about some routine household task and he shared with me something he wanted to see done differently. Wouldn’t you know it, I caught myself about to defend, explain and rationalize my behavior away again! Needless to say, because I was able to hear my friend’s feedback earlier in the day, I was able to course-correct and listen. And of course, there have been plenty of opportunities to continue to practice this new approach over the course of the following weeks and months. Thanks to helpful feedback from someone who cared enough to share it with me, I am paying more attention to how I respond to others when they are sending a message.

I’m sure some of you reading this can empathize with my situation. It’s hard to receive some messages and even harder to listen to them openly and completely. Gary Copeland, in “Consciousness, Courage and Communications,” talks about the different characteristics of interruptions by supposed listeners. He defines 3 specific types of personalities and we’ve expanded this to include a few more and identify them as Interruptions to Listening.

  • The Pretender– is cunning and competent at creating the illusion of listening when really they are actively ignoring you.
  • The Competitor- is an expert at topping your story with his own success or disaster.
  • The Debater- is very quick to make you wrong and her right by correcting your facts.
  • The Advisor- is never shy about giving their sage advice.
  • The Defender – is quick to justify, rationalize or explain away their behaviors.
  • The Deflector – is quick to change the subject to intentionally derail the conversation.

and Lastly:

  • The True Listener – takes in the total message to ensure maximum understanding.

What personality do you find yourself most susceptible to? What can you do differently to overcome this pattern?

Being a good listener is tough because it requires us to be patient and being patient means allowing others’ needs to come first. If we want to really understand a message, we have to allow others to share openly first and completely.  Rogers and Farson (1979) describe active listening as “an important way to bring about changes in people.” They recommend three steps for being an effective listener.

  • Listen for total meaning: listen for content and also the underlying emotions
  • Respond to feelings: sometimes, the real message is in the emotion rather than the surface content. In such cases, you should respond to the emotional message.
  • Note all the cues: Not all communication is verbal, as a matter of fact only 7% is verbal. The other 93% is tone of voice and body language.

If you’d like to practice being a Listener rather than a Debater, Defender, Pretender, Competitor or Advisor, try asking someone you trust to provide you feedback about how well you listen. It may be an eye-opener and some of the best feedback you’ll ever receive.

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