No doubt about it – caregivers have a ton on their plate. Sometimes when our minds are occupied with numerous tasks and when we are pulled in various directions, it is easy to get distracted while listening to others.

The act of listening often requires so much more than being quiet long enough to let the other person talk. It requires a conscious goal that you might need to remind yourself of occasionally. We listen because we want to understand, learn, help and/or enjoy. However, we forget these objectives at times. Instead, we pretend to listen while a host of other things are happening in our mind. These things block us from truly hearing, causing break downs in communication and ultimately frustration between the two parties attempting to communicate. See if you can identify yourself in any of the following blocks.

Blocks to Listening

Mind Reading happens when you dismiss what the person is saying in favor of your own assumptions for what they really mean based on their tone of voice or facial expressions. A classic example would be Jane asking Frank, “Do I look good in this dress?” Frank hesitates before answering, “I think you look fabulous.” Jane takes the hesitation to mean maybe it’s not the best choice and searches for another dress to wear instead of hearing what Frank actually said.
Tip – take to heart what is actually said. If you feel there is a hidden meaning due to body language, ask for honesty and confirmation: “Did you hesitate because you were afraid your opinion might hurt my feelings? Trust me, it won’t. I prefer not to read between the lines, and I truly value your honest opinion.”

Rehearsing takes place when you are so concerned with what you are going to say next. Afraid you might forget your statement or trying to gather your thoughts, you practice your comment in your mind while the other person is talking. Thus, you don’t really hear what the person is saying.
Tip – it’s ok to pause for a few moments after the person is done to gather your thoughts and formulate your comment. Create the habit of taking a deep breath or holding up your hand to let them know you are going to speak in T-minus 10 seconds.

Filtering is best known as selective listening. You hear the things you want to hear, but not others. Another example, you are all ears if you hear an emotion that might warrant a response, but tune out when you sense all is ok.
Tip – develop the habit of saying, “What I hear you saying….” and then summarize what they’ve said to ensure you heard everything as intended.

Advising happens when you immediately attempt to offer a solution or fix the person’s problem. Fantastic if they are actually asking for advice; however, if they simply need to vent or be heard, it can be problematic because they never feel validated.
Tip – practice those sympathy muscles with supportive statements such as, “Wow, that’s unfortunate.” “I feel for you.” “That’s fantastic.” Before providing suggestions, wait until you hear the all important question, “What do you think I should do?”

Judging compels one to stop listening because you have assigned a negative judgment or you are only listening to gather more evidence that supports your negative judgment. The best example is political. If you know Frank is a Republican and you are a Democrat, you may not listen to what he has to say because you think his views are so vastly different from yours. You may only hang on to comments that create an image of him as a super right wing conservative in your mind. This prevents you from truly hearing Frank’s opinions.
Tip – put aside any preconceived opinions of others. Be open to difference, and agree to disagree sometimes. You just might find some of the best relationships come from unexpected places.

Derailing is common when the conversation becomes too uncomfortable. The subject might be changed or a joke is made to adjust the direction of the conversation. By derailing, you avoid truly hearing and discussing the issue at hand.
Tip – if you feel uncomfortable, say so and ask that you discuss the topic at another time.

Being right. It seems we all strive for perfection even though it is unattainable. If we are wrong, it suggests we are less than perfect. That is really hard for some folks to accept. People will lie, justify, make excuses, shout, accuse and/or essentially do anything to avoid hearing they are wrong or less than perfect.
Tip – let go of the right/wrong ideology. Instead, embrace the notion that there are simply different ways of doing things.

Placating is easy to spot because the listener typically agrees too quickly in an effort to apologize or be agreeable; thus, the placating listener may not be hearing the true message.
Tip – don’t interrupt the person talking. Allow them to finish their thoughts fully so you understand the message.

Sparring is also easy to spot because the listener typically takes a position and defends it regardless of what the other person says. A debate or argument ensues in spite of any new ideas that might arise from the conversation.
Tip – be open to new ideas on old topics. Remember that change is constant, meaning that either of you could change your perspective even if that simply means deciding not to argue about it.

I bet you noticed you actively use some of these blocks with certain folks – maybe even two or three at a time. We all do. These blocks are probably what lead us to thinking, “Why can’t we all just get along.” We can if we are aware of our goals and become conscious listeners. 

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education
Chicago Skilled Nursing

Chicago Senior Living