How to Listen to Annoying Kids – Listening Through The Noise

listen (v):

1. to give attention with the ear
2. to pay attention, to heed
3. to wait attentively for a sound
4. to convey a particular impression to the one hearing

As a Grower of People, this definition makes me laugh.

If you’re not sure what the difference is between hearing and listening, you are cordially invited to my house for dinner. You’ll pull up a chair, we’ll all dig in, then I’ll bring up the topic of “passing gas” with the four year old. Give the conversation three minutes to gather steam, then try to change the subject.

Unless you come prepared with a live monkey for a prop, I can guarantee you MIGHT be heard, but you will for sure not be listened to.

When I was in high school I signed up for an elective class titled “Theory of Knowledge.” One of the course papers we were expected to research and write examined the question, “Can you have knowledge without language?”


Expand on the question a bit farther, and ask “Can you receive information from another person without listening?”

My answer is “Nope.”

LISTENING is about being receptive. And open, and “taking things in.” If you are not actively doing it, or making an attempt to do it, you are missing out on information. Whether intentionally ignoring someone or just not paying attention, if you are not listening you are not LEARNING. You are not growing, and you for sure are not Forging Depth.

To Forge Depth with those around us, we must first and foremost learn to listen. Of all the tools to improve my relationships, learning to actively listen has been hands down and by far the most important. Active listening is fundamental to all other aspects of relationships, and the second part of Active Listening is listening to every person, every time.

THIS ONE WAS HARDEST FOR ME TO LEARN. Like I said, I have grown “Mommy Ears.” I very easily and without intention turn off my ears, even when there’s a kid yelling six inches from my head.


Not kidding, and for a long time.  I think the record is three minutes, but I’m not completely sure.  I wasn’t listening.

Active listening means listening to every person, every time.

[I can hear you now.  “Why would I want to listen to that?  That drives me nuts.”]

Two things.

One, if you listen, that won’t happen.  If your kids know that they have access to you every time, they ask less frequently and just once.  If you answer with the first “Mom,” the rest are unnecessary.  If your boss knows you are listening and responsive with the first comment he makes, he will make fewer of them.  If your friends and family know you are approachable, you will hear the important things, not just the chaos.

Proving yourself to be an active listener greatly reduces the amount of times you’re asked things, and the efficiency with which you deal with questions when they’re asked.

And two, even more important than limiting the crazy questions, actively listening to every person every time will ENCOURAGE questions and conversation.

I once worked for a boss that was notoriously “busy.”  He was always on the run, even during conversations.  He was a bit abrasive, and quite indifferent to his employees.  (I’m being polite.  To be accurate, he was a total ass.)  All of us employees knew that before we went to him with any question or comment, we needed to have our ducks in a row, be sure that the conversation was relevant and important, and have planned out ahead of time the most efficient way to discuss the subject.  I was tenacious in my questioning and communication because I needed information from him to do my job well (plus I’m kind of an asshole myself), and “doing well” was important to me.  I was one of the only ones.  Other employees did not care so much about doing well.  There was no benefit to them worth the risk of asking questions, making comments, or giving feedback to our boss.

I am one hundred percent positive that the business I worked in was not running as well as it could have been, almost entirely due to lack of communication.  Employees had first hand perspective and excellent information on how to improve the business, but they held back from the boss.  Their information could have potentially saved the business hundreds and thousands of dollars, but our boss never got the info because he was a horrible listener.  He was not an active listener.  He was not even a CONSISTENT listener.  Sometimes he’d hear you, sometimes he wouldn’t, sometimes he’d respond well, sometimes he wouldn’t.  If he had listened to every person, every time, regardless of what he did with the conversations and information contained therein, he would have been more respected, he would have access to valuable information, and he would have had more opportunity to improve.

When we Actively Listen to every person, every time, we eliminate missed opportunities.  Make the attempt to listen, no matter how big, small, important, silly, long or short the conversation.

How To Dig:

  • Turn off mommy ears.  Pay attention to the people around you, and respond to your name the first time it’s said.  It is a habit we get into, especially as Growers of People, but like any habit we can change it.  Fiddling with the dials in our head and intentionally increasing sensitivity to the white noise around us will help us to identify noise we should actually listen to.
  • Identify situations or environments that cause you to tune out.  For example, I tend to tune out when I’m working on my computer, writing, or drawing.  Most people stop listening when they’re listening to music, or when there is a TV on in the room.  You cannot actively listen and connect with the person in front of you if you are tweeting, posting, or texting.  You cannot actively listen if you are THINKING about tweeting, posting, or texting.  If the conversation is going to be more than a few minutes, shut off or silence the electronic devices while you talk.  Once you identify those things that distract from listening, remove them.  If they cannot be removed, remove yourself and the conversation from them.  When my kids approach my desk and want to talk, I reply immediately “Give me one second,” take my one second (not fifty) to find a stopping point, turn in my chair, face them, and give them my attention.  I cannot actively listen if I am writing, reading, or working.
  • Identify people that you tend to tune out.  If it is a person that you find you have a difficult time listening to, make an effort to discover what it is about them or their words that make you not want to listen, and deal with it.  Address it, or choose to let go of what bothers you so you can listen actively.
  • Identify subjects that you have a difficult time discussing and listening to.  If a conversation is started that is particularly difficult, choose to either actively shut down the conversation (as opposed to pretending to listen), change it to something more palatable (if it can be changed), or state clearly to the one talking “this subject is hard for me to talk about, please be patient as we talk.”  You’d be amazed how willing a person is to change tactics, attitude, or approach when they know the listener is having a hard time with the subject at hand.
  • If you absolutely cannot participate in the conversation and actively listen, say so. “I can’t do this, I need time to think, let’s do this another time.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with postponing tough talks. It does not make you a bad person, it just means you need some time. That’s fair, and if the person you’re listening to respects and trusts you, they should have no problem honoring your request.

Next time you are presented with an opportunity to listen, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I making an attempt to listen?
  • Am I in a position to listen 100% to the person speaking?  If not, what can I change to be a better listener?  Do I need to move?  Shut off, unplug, find a better environment?
  • Do I need to better prepare myself before I actively listen to this person talking?  Or can I apply myself to listening right now, and give 100%?

So tell me.  Have you ever intentionally NOT listened to someone because you didn’t want to hear what they had to say?  Have you ever zoned out?

What topics and people do you have a hard time listening to?

Let me know in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.

As always, thank you so much for reading and Forging Depth with me.  I am so, so glad you’re here!

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