12 blocks to listening

Good communication is key to a healthy happy relationship whether it is romantic or friendship, kids, work, etc...However it seems to be one of the most challenging thing to achieve. Why is that? Some of us have no problem talking but when it comes to listening, we may not be paying full attention, taking things personally or misinterpreting things, creating major conflicts and hurts. It can also be the other way around, some of us are amazing listeners and totally shut down when trying to express their emotions which also creates an imbalance leading to disconnect, dramatically affecting intimacy.


Today we will focus on the listening. There seem to be 12 twelve blocks to listening. You will find that some are old favorites that you use over and over. Others are held in reserve to certain types of people or situations. Everyone uses listening blocks, so you shouldn’t worry if a lot of blocks are familiar. This is an opportunity to become more aware of your blocks at the time you actually use them.

  1. Comparing. Comparing makes it hard to listen because you are always trying to assess who is smarter, more competent, more emotionally healthy - you or the other. Some people focus on who has suffered more, who’s a bigger victim. While someone is talking, you think to yourself: “Could I do it as well?…I’ve had it harder, he doesn’t know what hard is…I earn more than that…My kids are so much brighter.” You can’t let much in because you’re too busy seeing if you measure up.

  2. Mind reading. The mind reader doesn’t pay much attention to what people say, in fact, he often distrusts it. He’s trying to figure out what the other person is really thinking and feeling. “She says she wants to go to the show, but I’ll bet she’s tired and wants to relax. She might be resentful if I pushed her when she does not want to go.” The mind reader pays less attention to words than to intonation and subtle cues in an effort to see through the truth.

  3. Rehearsing. You don’t have time to listen when you’re rehearsing what to say. Your whole attention is on preparation and crafting of your next comment. You have to look interested, but your mind is going a mile a minute because you’ve got a story to tell, or a point to make. Some people rehearse whole chains of response. “I’ll say, then he’ll say, then I’ll say”, and so on.

  4. Filtering. When you filter, you listen to some things and not to others. You pay only enough attention to see if someone is angry or unhappy, or if you’re in emtional danger. Once assured that the communication contains none of those things, you let your mind wander. One woman listens just enough to her son to learn whether he is fighting again in school. Relieved to hear he isn’t, she begins thinking about her shopping list. A young man quickly ascertains what kind of mood his girlfriend is in. If she seems happy as she describes day, his thoughts begin wandering. Another way people filter is simply to avoid hearing certain things…particularly anything threatening, negative, critical or unpleasant.It’s as if the words were never said. You simply have no memory of them.

  5. Judging. Negative labels have enormous power. If you prejudge someone as stupid or nuts or unqualified, you don’t pay attention to what they say. You’ve already written them off. Hastily judging a peson as immoral, fascist, hypocritical, or crazy means you have ceased to listen and have begun a “knee-jerk” reaction. A basic rule of listening is that judgments should only be made after you have heard and evaluated the content of the message.

  6. Dreaming. You are half listening and something the peson says suddenly triggers a chain of private associations. Your neighbour says she has been laid off and in a flash you got back to the scene when you go fired for playing hearts on those long coffee breaks.And you’re gone only to return a few minutes later as your neighbour says: “ I knew you’d understand but don’t tell my husband”. You are more prone to dreaming when you feel bored or anxious. Everybody dreams and you sometimes need to make Herculean efforts to stay tuned in. But if you dream a lot with certain people, it may indicate a lack of commitment to knowing or appreciating them. At the very least. it’s a statement that you dont value what they have to say.

  7. Identifying. In this block, you take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your own experience. They want to tell you about a toothache but that reminds you of a time you had oral surgery for receding gums. You launch into your story before you can finish theirs. Everything they tell you reminds of a thing you have felt, done or suffered. You are so busy with those exciting tales of your life that there is no time to really hear or get to know the other person.

  8. Advising. You are a the great problem solver, ready with help. You don’t want to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice. However while you are cooking up suggestions and convincing someone to “just try it” you may miss what’s more important. You didn’t heart the feelings and you didn’t acknowledge the person’s pain. He or she still feels basically alone because you could not listen and just be there.

  9. Sparring. The block has you arguing and debating with people. The other person never feels hears because you are so quick to disagree, in fact a lot of your focus is on finding things to disagree with. You take strong stands, are very clear about your beliefs and preferences., the way to avoid sparring is to repeat back and acknowledge what you’ve heard. Look for one thing you might agree with. One sub-type of sparring is the put-down. You use acerbic or sarcastic remarks to dismiss the other person’s point of view. For example Helen starts telling Arthur about her problems in a biology class. Arthur says: “When are you going to have brains enough to drop that class” Al is feeling overwhelmed with the noise from the television. When he tells rebecca, she says” “Oh no not the television routine again!” The put down is the standard block to listening in marriages. It quickly pushes the communication into stereotyped patterns where each person repeats the a familiar hostile litany.A second type of sparring is discounting. Discounting is for people who can’t stand compliments. “Oh, I didn’t do anything…what do you mean, I was totally lane. It’s nice of you to say but it’s a very poor attempt.” The basic technique of discounting is to run yourself down when you get a compliment. The other person never feels satisfied that you really heard his appreciation. And he is right you didn’t.

  10. Being right. Being right means you will go to lengths (twist the facts, start shouting, make excuses or accusations, call us past sins) to avoid being wrong. You cant listen to criticism, you can’t be corrected and you cant take suggestions to change. Your convictions are unshakable. And since you won’t acknowledge that your mistakes are mistakes, you just keep making them.

  11. Derailing. The listening block is accomplished by suddently changing the subject. You derail the train of conversation when you get bored or uncomfortable with a topic. Another way of derailing is by joking it off. This means that you continually respond to whatever is said with a joke or quip in order to avoid the discomfort or anxiety in seriously listening to the other person.

  12. Placating. Right ..right…absolutely… I know…Of course you are…incredible…Yes…Really? You want to be nice, pleasant, supportive. You want people to like you. So you agree with everything. You may half listen, just enough to get the drift, but you are not really involved. You are placating rather than tuning in and examining what’s being said.

Next time you have a conversation, observe and find what blocks apply, have fun!


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