Mental Baggage that Blocks Listening

In response to my Listening Article post, my friend Ashley Szekely asked for some tips and tricks to getting rid of preconceived notions that will prevent listening.  There’s no magic bullet, but here are some tricks that I use.


The first step of any behavioral is awareness.  Before meeting with someone or engaging in a conversation, think of any biases that you may have.  How are you going into this interaction thinking? What answers do you already have in place?  For me, the simple act of knowing my biases is often enough to reset my expectations.  In fact, upon reflection, most of my blockers seem a bit silly once I take a look at them.

An example of the simple act of awareness helping my listening was last night at a GDC dinner. I was speaking with a couple of young entrepreneurs. I admit, I was a bit bored and started to look around to see who else I could speak with. I realized what I was doing, realized how inconsiderate and rude it was, took a couple breaths, and then focused on the conversation in front of me. Once I got back to listening, I ended up having a really great conversation about wealth, starting companies, and spirituality – all prompted by the other person. Had I not noticed my behavior, had I sought out someone more immediately interesting, I would’ve missed out on a very enriching conversation for the rest of the evening.


Another good technique is empathy. Somehow in our modern society it’s easy to forget the golden rule, and even easier to forget putting it into practice. Taking a moment before a difficult conversation to put yourself in the other person’s shoes can be really powerful. You’ll be able to hear the deeper meaning behind someone’s words if you’re trying to figure out where they’re coming from, how they’re hurting, or what their perspective might be. No matter what you’re going through in life, reminding yourself that everyone has their troubles, issues, and challenges can really help feel where people are coming from.

Center Yourself

Another trick is to center yourself. Try to clear your head of everything. Instead of imaging how the conversation is going to go beforehand, focus on breathing for a couple minutes. If you do that, time will slow down a bit, you’ll feel a bit less stressed, and some of your own baggage will wash away. It sounds weird, but a meditation to clear your head of all thoughts before a conversation can really help you be open to what the other person has to say and will really help the conversation. Some of my favorite conversations were ones where I removed my agenda, cleared my thoughts, and was just there.

    • Ashley
    • March 8th, 2012

    Thanks, John.

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