People-Skills: Listening Beyond Your Boundary

Great speakers and writers know the power of words. The right words can excite, engage, and entertain. They can paint images, spur debate, and chart new directions.

The right words, however, cannot get beyond a listening boundary we create ourselves. In my teaching, consulting, and blogging, I have seen one pesky listening boundary recur across diverse audiences.

Previous experience traps words in one context & blocks listening.

Swim Beyond Your Listening Boundary

What Words Trigger a Listening Boundary?
We may never know exactly which words will trap us in a listening boundary. We ready ourselves to swim beyond a boundary by knowing when words trap our listening.

  1. When we already have strong feeling, emotion, or opinion. In my customer service workshops, the word paraphrase often stops people from listening to what I mean by that word. They picture the horrible experience of agents reading from a script parroting each thing they say. This of course is not paraphrasing. Yet their previous experience temporarily blocks listening.
  2. When we have had intense or rigid occupational training. There are some professions where certification or licensing drill people into fixed ways of thinking. Good for performance in that profession; bad for listening and interacting beyond that boundary.
  3. When we crave control. Cravings take over mind and body and block listening. Oddly enough, craving control destroys any chance of having control. Without input, our current knowledge becomes outdated or invalid. Listening is the path to continued understanding and success.
  4. When we are impatient for results and closure. Time pressures, personality type, fear of failure breed impatience and create a listening boundary.

Listening Beyond the Boundary
Question, digest, and absorb.

1. Replace fear of looking ignorant with strength from active listening.

2. Postpone persuading until you know the field of sway.

3. Consider the context of the communicator before hawking your context.

4. Leave room for various meanings. Language is not a science.

Shall we start a list of common words that trap us in a listening boundary? Or will you share below some other conditions that spawn listening boundaries? I welcome your contributions to this post in the comments section below.

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. For permission to re-post or republish, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, has amassed 21 years of stellar results with corporate customers turning interpersonal obstacles into business success. Her energy is legendary, her insight objective, and her results tangible. See this site for info about her keynotes, workshops, and dvds.

3 Responses to “People-Skills: Listening Beyond Your Boundary”

  1. Liz Weber says:

    Great post again Kate! I call this “Control your clicker” when I work with my clients. When many of us watch television, we simply “click” to a different channel as soon as something appears we don’t like, understand, or appreciate. As effective leaders in the workplace, we need to be able to listen critically and use your advice above to ensure we’re truly listening. We need to put our biases aside and hear others. It’s amazing what we’ll learn.

  2. Jim Morgan says:

    Good points, as usual, Kate. A seminal book on prejudice based on extensive research in the American South in the 1950s found a root cause underlying your list. Our beliefs form an interconnected web such that you cannot easily change one without tugging at many more. For example, the researcher found that prejudiced people were not usually prejudiced against one group, but against almost all groups that were not like themselves. They were even prejudiced against people like themselves who were not prejudiced!

    In my persuasion class, I teach people to “pick their battles” by trying to change ideas on the outer edges of someone’s belief system. For instance, don’t tell them they are arrogant and need to change. Choose an example where they did harm with a thoughtless statement and point out the facts specific to that incident. Wholesale change is easier in small steps. For self-change, we can try to notice the emotional reaction you mention, then push through it to ask ourselves if there is at least some truth in the incoming statement, rather than rejecting the idea outright.

    Source: Rokeach, M. (1960), “The Open and Closed Mind.” New York: Basic Books.

  3. gillian murrell says:

    I love your pithy advice and look forward to your insights. They break up my day with sudden bursts of fresh air 🙂


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