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Communication week - Active Listening Blocks

Hypothetical Situation: Having a productive communication with a friend

You are having a conversation with a friend whilst sipping coffee in a quiet and relaxing room. You are discussing how you feel with your friend when he/she asked about your wellbeing. You, however, noticed that your friend just blinked in response to you telling him/her about how you feel. You noticed that he/she has drifted away from the conversation mentally although they are physically present.


How often have you been in situations where you noticed or feel that the person you are having a conversation with isn’t listening and/or physically present? Maybe you have been guilty of this too in the past.


Active listening is a skillset that helps in having productive and deeper conversations. It helps in fostering powerful, meaningful and authentic relationships, which can literally transform lives.

On the other hand, where one party lacks a good listening skill during a conversation, one or more of the following ‘communication blocks’ are likely to be realised.

1. Comparing

This happens during a conversation where one party starts assessing and comparing the other person in terms of who is better, smarter, wealthy, etc. Sometimes, we compare ‘our tragedies’, e.g. who is the bigger victim, who has a worse type of situation, etc. As a result, the person doing the mental comparison is unable to focus on the other person and the topic of discussion because he/she is busy making ‘comparisons'.

2. Mind Reading

We bring so many different ‘aspects’ of ourselves into conversations - our mood, attitude, stress, biases. This conversational ‘baggage’ can prevent us from truly listening to the other person during a conversation to such an extent that we make assumptions about what is being said.

The ‘mindreader’ is constantly trying to guess what the other person is saying through their gesticulation, the intonation of their voice and catch all the small leads that will ‘reveal the truth’. This is obviously quite harmful in the communication process and does not help in building a mutual and trusting connection.

3. Daydreaming

This happens when one drifts away during a conversation. It could be something that the other person said or did, which may/may not trigger fading out of one’s mind… One starts thinking about something else and then something else and you are completely gone… After a few moments later, you are completely far away from the current topic of conversation - in your own world. When you ‘return’ to the conversation you have no idea what has been said. This state is activated even more when we are bored.

4. Rehearsing

Instead of focusing on what the other person is saying you are preparing in your head what you are going to say in response. At the same time though you need to ‘look interested’. Some of us are preparing all the conversational material ‘I will say that first and then… ‘.

5. Advising

If you have amazing problem-solving skills you are likely to effortlessly give people good advice. After just a few words/sentences down the conversation, you know what the other person should do with ‘their problem’. This looks all good - you have all the best intentions to help the other person, right? However, the problem is you might not hear what the root of the problem is, you might not recognize their emotions or pain just because you were somewhere else and already forming a way out for the problem.

6. Identifying

This block manifests itself when you are reflecting what the other person says to your own experience. It might look helpful in one way but on the other hand, you are interrupting the person and unintentionally shifts the attention to yourself. As a result, you are not paying attention to what the other person is saying but you are getting excited about your own experience(s).

7. Judging

Sometimes, it does not matter what the other person has to say. You already know… They are ‘properly’ assessed and labelled so no matter what they say you already know everything.

8. Placating

When you hear ‘Yes, I know, Absolutely, Really... ’ etc. you can be sure that your conversation partner is not really listening. They want to be liked and polite so they agree with everything that is being said. In some cases, this can be quite comical and looks very inauthentic.

9. Filtering

You are on the alert - constantly trying to catch the ‘important’ information. You are extremely focused to see if the other person is upset, or sad or other emotional situation that can be ‘threatening’ to your state. If you don’t feel in danger, you can calmly drift away towards your zone…

Other examples of filtering conversation are: omitting negative, critical information like they never have been said. In that way - you can hear what you want to hear.

10. Sparring

Do you know someone who is contradictory to everything others say irrespective of the topic being discussed? This person has the ‘I know all’ mindset to everything and will always find something to say or argue about. As a result, the other person is never given an opportunity to be heard and no mutual solution can be found.

The other ways this block shows in conversations include:

  • Interrupting a conversation with sarcastic comments (for example ‘Will you ever learn?’)

  • Discounting, disregarding or not considering someone else’s warnings

11. Being Right

If you have a typical “I am always right” personality, you can be sure you have some listening blocks to work on. You are likely to have bad communication habits that come across as being aggressive with a high tone of voice, or you may regularly change facts to suit your agenda, blame others, constantly remind others of their mistakes. You can’t stand any critique and you hate to be corrected. You don’t listen to any advice. Whatever happens, you always do not like your opinions being challenged. You never admit that you were wrong and therefore never learn.

12. Derailing

This is when you (often and all of a sudden) abruptly interject into and change the subject of a discussion. It happens when you are bored with a conversation or you feel discomfort around the subject. Another way of deflecting from the conversation is by making a joke about it.

Think about all the above blocks that can prevent you from being a great listener. We are ‘habitual creatures’ and as such we usually use certain patterns in everything we do. Take some time and write down the blocks that are most common to you.

  • What can you do about them?

  • Are there any particular situations when you are using those patterns?

  • Is there any particular person or group of people with which you use any of those techniques?

Remember that in order to be heard and create meaningful connections listening is the most useful skill. This is something you can train yourself to be better at.

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