Are You a Perfect Listener? It depends!

What does it take to be a PERFECT LISTENER?? I found this listening test a few years back.  It’s from a John Maxwell book on leadership (bonus points for whoever can tell me which one of the 5000 books he’s written it’s from!) and I’ve been talking about it in workshops and seminars for a long time now. The thing is I’m just not sure anymore if I really like the test or if I still want to use it.

Try this test first, see what you score and let’s talk about it.

Always= 4 points Usually= 3 points Rarely= 2 points Never=1 point

1. Do I allow the speaker to finish without interrupting?   _________

2. Do I listen “between the lines”; that is, for the subtext?  _________

3. Do I repeat what the person just said to clarify the meaning?   _________

4. Do I avoid getting hostile and/or agitated when I disagree with the speaker?   _________

5. Do I tune out distractions when listening?   _________

6. Do I make an effort to seem interested in what the other person is saying?     _________

______Total

Got it? Good.  Now, if your score is more than 24 you’ve scored excellently on this test but your math skills aren’t all that ;).  A perfect score is, of course, a 24, which requires that you answered “always” to each of the 6 questions presented.  Now, this is obviously not some deep, heavily researched test that’s been normed across multiple groups with large sample sizes. But still, any “test” is supposed to provide some measure of understanding, skills, or knowledge acquired.

Does a perfect score on this test mean that you really are a perfect listener?  Let’s look at some of these questions and find out.

1. Do I allow the speaker to finish without interrupting?

Well, if you’re trying to be a good listener the answer for this one looks like a no-brainer: Don’t interrupt; let the person finish. Perfect.  Let’s move on.  Next…WAIT!!  Is it really a good listening practice to NEVER interrupt?  Are there really never any times or situations where interrupting someone would not only be not rude but helpful and productive?  Hmm…Wouldn’t it then depend?  I Googled “good times to interrupt people in communication” and the entire first page of results was a list of websites that strongly supported the “Thou Shalt Not Interrupt” commandment.

All I’m saying is that, maybe, having an “always” score here isn’t necessarily a perfect thing.

I will acknowledge that people who are chronic interrupters, or who do it subconsciously and without thought should be taking to communication jail and put in some hard time.  But what if I’m interrupting for a reason or on purpose?  What if the person is communicating important steps that I have to get right? Is it ok to stop them and ask them to repeat or to clarify?  Maybe.  I guess I could always wait until they finished but what if I forget or the next couple of steps depend on understanding the previous one I missed?

Heck, what if the person is rambling on and on and on (“until the break of dawn”), and have already communicated their point, and just can’t seem to find an exit ramp to conclude?  Should I patiently and quietly wait for them to finish?  Maybe.  Or, maybe I’m running out of time and have to leave.  What about that?  Is that a good reason to interrupt someone?  Can I not say, politely, “Excuse me but I’m running a little late and have to get going.  Perhaps we can talk later? ” Wouldn’t that be acceptable?  I think so.

All I’m saying is that, maybe, having an “always” score here isn’t necessarily a perfect thing.

Let’s look at question two.

2.  Should You Listen “between the lines”; that is, for the subtext?

First of all, what the heck is “subtext?” The last time I heard someone mention this word I was in a Shakesphere class in college (it was a, uh, short-lived class for me). Wikipedia defines subtext like this

Subtext is content underneath the spoken dialogue. Under dialogue, there can be conflict, anger, competition, pride, showing off, or other implicit ideas and emotions. Subtext is the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters — what they really think and believe. Subtext just beneath the surface of dialogue makes life interesting, but it can also cause people to be misunderstood.

Subtext is the message being said without anything being said.  A lot of times it’s the body language or non-verbal communication of the speaker.  For this question is it a good thing to “always” read between the lines when we’re listening?  You know, I’m going to answer a qualified “yes” for this one.  Let me explain.

By qualified I mean that we should be watching the non-verbal clues that people give us – e.g. facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, etc. BUT I don’t think we should “always” be believing what we see.  Interpreting someone else’s body language is, to me, “always” a risky, roll-the-dice move.  We can never be sure that we we are “reading” is what the other person is saying. And yes, trying to interpret someone’s words is just as sketchy.  All of communication, all of effective communication, is a give-take, push-pull, check-suggest activity.

Let’s skip down to the final question.

What’s your sign?

3. Do I make an effort to seem interested in what the other person is saying?

Now, this one should be an “always” for sure right?  Well, if  you’re expecting me to identify a  situation where “always” may not always be good you would be…right on!  But why we would we want to NOT seem interested in what the other person is saying?  When we want to communicate disinterest, of course.

My definition of effective communication is when the receiver gets the message the way the sender intends.

My definition of effective communication is when the receiver gets the message the way the sender intends.

 If this is the case, there may indeed be times when I would WANT to communicate disinterest.  Remember, we’re mostly talking about non-verbal communication here so we’d be communicating through eye contact (or the lack of it), smiling/frowning/scowling and other non-verbals.

What if a girl really, really isn’t interested in listening to the stale pickup lines from some guy in line next to her? Should she make an effort to seem interested?  Should she smile and nod encouragingly? Why would she?  She wants to communicate a completely different message.

Here again the “always” answer isn’t always good.  It depends, it depends, it depends.  (Man, I wish I could have found a test in school this.)

For the record, if you had to err towards one end of this answer continuum I think you’d be safe here on the “always” end then on the “never” end.  That’s a straight up “F” grade for listening.  I can no job, situation or circumstance that would support “never” answers for these question.

I’m sure you can find your own exceptions to the “always” answers for these six questions and hope you do.  I also hope that you think about and put into practices the things we’ve looked at, always.  🙂

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Leave a Reply 4 comments

Mike Puckett - September 16, 2010 Reply

Love the Idea of follow your passion. Hey have you ever read Dorothea Brande’s book written in 1936 sold 2 million copies. Good mind healing. I read it on scribd.com
Aloha Kaala

Mike Puckett
Former Pastor and very coggy person

    Anonymous - September 17, 2010 Reply

    Mind healing is always good! So are former pastors and coggy people 😉

    Aloha,
    Kaala

Mike Puckett - September 16, 2010 Reply

Love the Idea of follow your passion. Hey have you ever read Dorothea Brande’s book written in 1936 sold 2 million copies. Good mind healing. I read it on scribd.com
Aloha Kaala

Mike Puckett
Former Pastor and very coggy person

    Kaʻala Souza - September 17, 2010 Reply

    Mind healing is always good! So are former pastors and coggy people 😉 I’ll check out that book too. Just read the intro and if it delivers for real on what its offering it’ll be impressive!

    Aloha,
    Kaala

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