One of the most crucial of all interpersonal skills is finding out what the other person needs, fears, hopes for and so on. There are many barriers to getting accurate information. Some of the main blocks happen when you:
- Mistakenly assume that you know what the other person wants
- Project your own fears, needs, and feelings on to the other person
- Fear appearing to pry
- Fear hearing the worst possible answer
- Don’t know how to ask
A lot of people don’t know that listening is an active rather than a passive process. The same things that you are learning to express assertively, you will need to listen for and seek out with questions.
‘Assertive Listening’ is an interpersonal skill that involves actively asking questions at the appropriate times. If while listening you have any uncertainty about the other person’s feelings or wishes, ask a direct question. Ask what they feel, what they think the core problem is, what they think needs to change, what they want to do, what they want you to do.
But remember, just because you find out what someone needs,
it doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.
Rather active listening gives you more information with which to negotiate.
‘Listening Blocks’ are common ways in which most people block their listening abilities. Being aware of these blocks, especially the ones we tend to use, helps us to avoid these pitfalls.
McKay et al (2007) list ten Listening Blocks: Mind reading, Filtering, Judging, Rehearsing, Daydreaming, Advising, Sparring, Being right, Derailing and Placating.
A useful exercise is to help the client describe and examine one or more situations in which communication recently broke down, and to see if they can identify at least 1 listening block that kept them from hearing and understanding the other person. <Link to worksheet>