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How Good Are Your Listening Skills?

Serena Reep, Ph.D. -- While communication skills are often key to success, equally important in personal and professional relationships are listening skills. Mutually rewarding interaction calls for both self- and other-awareness and a healthy respect for the other person.

I have a good friend who has an annoying habit. She does this all the time, and does not even realize it. She asks me a question and when I am barely in the middle of the answer she moves on to the next question, or at least shows enough impatience in her gestures to suggest that I have taken more than the time she allotted me to get the answer.

Once I tested this. As soon as I felt that her attention span was waning, I immediately found a reason to stop my explanation midstream. She did not even realize she did not get the answer to her first question. She moved on to her next question as soon as there was a slight conversation break.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you been on the receiving end of this habit? Conversely, are you likely to cut some one off before they finish their response?

Why does this happen? And, what can you do about it without being rude or unkind?

Let's first look at why people ask questions or seek information.

Some people love to hear themselves talk. They are not really interested in hearing what others have to say. For these people asking questions is a vehicle through which they express themselves. This is how they create and maintain control over the conversation.

Some people want answers that they already have in mind, i.e., they know the answer and they want to test you to see if you are as smart as they. This is a yardstick they use to measure if you belong in the "inner circle."

Some people just want validation of their views. So, if you are an authority figure or a subject matter expert on the topic, and you agree with their views, then their goal is accomplished. They quickly want to move on to another subject. They have already "earned" their badge of honor when you validated their views. On the other hand, if you are an equal or not an expert on the subject matter in their eyes, they lose interest as soon as you begin to deviate from their expectations.

Some people want answers tailored to their expectations. These expectations include not only the content (i.e., the "right" answer) but also the length and format of the answer. So, if your answer takes a little longer or is not delivered in the format they wanted, they lose interest.

Finally, there are people who genuinely seek information as an end in itself. They will ask the question and wait for the answer, without any preconceived notions of the answer -- its content, length, or format.

Obviously the last mode provides the most fertile ground for developing and enhancing good listening skills. What are the benefits of such receptiveness and humility? First, it enables the person asking the question to learn -- maybe information or explanation they seek, or a different perspective on the answer they already have. When you listen with an open mind, amazing riches come your way. Second, it makes the responder feel that their opinion or knowledge matters to some one else. This is very important for self-validation as well as peer-recognition. Third, it provides a strong opportunity for bonding between the parties and having an effective conversation.

But all other modes require us to do some self examination. We have already briefly looked at the motivations behind that behavior. One thing that can be said about all of the first four modes is that they are not mutually rewarding and do not create effective conversation. Also, the long term cost is higher than the temporary benefit. In order to create mutually rewarding "win-win" relationships, one needs to shift the emphasis from self-absorption to other-absorption.

Now let us look at how to deal with it, if you are on the receiving end of the first four modes. Here is a quick solution to implement. Don't do this the first or second time some one cuts you off. But once you establish that this is the modus operandus for this person, deliberately formulate a short succinct answer (yes, no, maybe) but leave a thread in front of them to pull. So now they are in control of getting the full answer, if they want. If they walk away, go on to something else, then you have given them all they need. You don't need to waste your breath any more.

Example: I agree with you 90% of the time but.... Stop right there. Don't go any further. If the other person wants to know the details of why, how or when, he or she will have to ask you another question.

In order for mutually rewarding "win-win" relationships to develop and nurture, we need to start with a healthy respect for each other. Self-absorption needs to be moderated with, if not entirely substituted with, other-absorption. When we have developed these two habits, good listening skills are easier to develop.


Dr. Serena Reep is an Ex-College Professor, communication and relationship management coach, corporate project management trainer, author, and motivational speaker. She considers herself a social-entrepreneur and likes to promote social causes in all her ventures. Want to know more about how to be more proactive and productive in your relationships and communicate better with others? Want to be understood and appreciated? Subscribe to the free newsletter from Dr. Serena Reep at is a complete online resource that compares the legal services offered by various online companies. Find the best company for your copyright needs at

© 2009 Serena Reep, Ph.D.n

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