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The crucial art of listening often takes a backseat to the constant buzz of digital notifications and the clamor of our own thoughts. When we do listen, we often fall prey to various biases that hinder our ability to truly understand and empathize with others. These biases can manifest in different ways, such as sympathy, patronization, closed filters, internal dialogue, reactivity, and overtaking. Let’s explore these biases and consider tips on how to become a better listener by overcoming them.
Feeling pity or sorry for someone else’s misfortune might feel like a natural tendency, and to some extent it is. At the same time, this listening filter doesn’t account for how the other is actually feeling about their circumstances.
Patronizing listening involves speaking down to the speaker, assuming they need guidance or assistance, or that you know better what is best for them. To overcome this bias, avoid making assumptions about what they need, and ask open-ended questions to encourage them to express themselves fully.
A closed filter occurs when we selectively hear and remember information that aligns with our existing beliefs or interests and creates comparisons. To combat this bias, consciously open your mind to new ideas and perspectives. Challenge your assumptions and actively seek out diverse viewpoints to broaden your understanding.
Often, we’re so preoccupied with our internal thoughts and judgments that we fail to give our full attention to the speaker. To be a better listener, practice active listening by setting aside your internal dialogue and focusing on the speaker’s words. Make eye contact, nod, and offer verbal cues to show you’re engaged.
Listening through a reactive/critical filter puts you into a “judge” position and makes you quick to react negatively, often before you fully understand where the other person is. To avoid these biases, prioritize understanding before responding. Let the speaker finish before offering your thoughts, and aim to build on their ideas rather than critiquing them.
Overtaking occurs when we steer the conversation toward our own experiences or opinions, making it about ourselves rather than the speaker. We do this by remaining focused on what we are going to say, instead of actively listening to the other person. To be a better listener, resist the urge to overtake and stay attuned to the speaker’s needs. Show genuine interest in their story and ask follow-up questions to encourage them to share more.
To become a better listener and overcome these biases, it’s essential to practice mindfulness and self-awareness. Recognize when these biases are at play and consciously work to counteract them. By doing so, you’ll foster more meaningful connections, better understand others, and build stronger relationships based on empathy and genuine understanding.
Listening is a skill that can be cultivated, and with practice, we can all become better listeners who enrich our interactions and connections with others.