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Have you been in a gathering of friends in which the key talkers are all competing to be heard to the extent that all other voices are subdued? It could be in a pub, at a home, in the office or wherever.

Have you been in an office meeting or gathering in which everyone seems to want to say something? Have you noticed that in all the talking, the majority keep stating just the same things but in different ways and words and tones of voices? Except of course only if the person chairing is expert, experienced and respected enough to reign in.

Have you and your partner disagreed over a matter verbally but after a thorough reflection, you did realize that you both actually had the same goal to be achieved? Probably even the same approaches but just different ways of stating it? Probably that is why even with all the arguing and sulking you still are together, sleep together, drive together, eat together, look to the future together and rear your children together amidst all the apparent differences.

The above scenarios are common and make for good jokes but can be detrimental when fundamental improvements are the subject of concern. When we need to achieve a positive change in our lives, careers, attitudes, relationships and even spirituality, listening while actively thinking in our minds of how we shall defend our position against what we are hearing from the other is a great bottleneck, an enemy and destroyer of the possibility to self improvement. Why is this so?

Because as you start thinking of how to react to the statement made by the one speaking to you, your brain's listening tools stop functioning and get redirected to locating answers to just the part you have heard, the rest of the arguments being built pass you unnoticed. What you have missed at this point, could literally be what you needed to hear and act upon.

Remember, speech is a building of blocks, what you are mentally trying to defend is likely just the first few unattractive, incomplete pieces being laid to serve you the complete beautiful picturesque mansion or flat. It could be just the first unappealing spatters of paint that an artist smears on his painting surface as he works on that anticipated beautiful multimillion-prize winning master piece.

Growing up as a little boy, I had the opportunity of being under a fine art coaching and tutoring of my home town's most renowned artist both privately and as a student. The one thing Mr. James Oboli always guarded against was having his client around while he works on their art pieces. Why? Because sometimes he would need to spatter paint onto a spot on the almost finished picture causing a stare from the client or amateur artist who would think the master is spoiling the work,  yet to him, the expert , this is just a process towards making it better. The impatient client can be really touchy and defensive of their incomplete art piece thinking the painter is messing an already good piece. An important lesson to remember here is that, the artist is them not you, so the best is to let them spatter as much as they can to develop that final beautiful piece for or in you in this case of listening for self improvement.

When someone is speaking to you, give them the time to build their point to the end, it is not easy but it is possible. Only by listening actively to the end of the point development can you accurately respond or comprehend exactly what the other means. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us listen to respond, and we do many times want to respond right in the middle of others’ developing speeches. Then because he/she feels misunderstood and disrespected, the argument starts and peace is interrupted, the final picture is not reached, a loss-loss result is what they gain thus compounding instead of un-complicating the situation that the conversation should have resolved.

Why does this always happen when we all desire to have peaceful, happy, profitable and Love-filled conversations? (Whatever ‘love-filled’ means to you)

There could be as many academic reasons as one may have the time to dig. However, real life revelations show the following to be at play either consciously or unconsciously;

i) Pre-emptive defense; that is if one has something to hide and does not want you to get to that incriminating point of revelation/conclusion. I was visiting a respectable retired police lady who worked in a unit that handles issues of domestic violence in one of our East African countries and she told us that in her experience of over 30 years of handling matrimonial issues, she found out that the most vocal and most accusing partner often turned out to be the culprit, the source of the trouble in the marriage. In my own administrative experience over the years, I have learnt not to hurry into sympathizing with the one who incessantly does interrupt another’s speech, especially when there is an issue that may incriminate someone else; the conclusion ? the innocent seem often to have some calm composure that the guilty rarely can afford.

ii) Natural orientation to defensiveness: Our brain appears to be naturally inclined to defend whatever it believes to be right and good for our survival; this survival instinct kind of just reacts automatically to whatever challenges the position on a matter that it is accustomed to. The defensive reaction is usually meant to avert the replacement of what our brain believes to be a safe position with anything else especially if the held position works relatively well for the individual or if the idea being propagated by the other party did not in the past produce the expected results to the listener.

iii) Inferiority complex: It is very rare to find much concern-raising disruptive conversations among people of similar social statuses and or educational backgrounds. Even when they do engage in some form of argument, there is a recognizable sense of mutual respect that allows them to listen to understand before responding.

However, when one party in a conversation strongly feels they are the underdogs, whether the feeling is only in their own minds or caused by the actions of the better placed individual, every word you say that disagrees with theirs will be received with aggressive interruptive feedback. Equally so, the one with a superiority complex may display this aggressive interruptive feedback looping simply because they assume whatever will come out of the other’s mouth will not be worth it.

Irrespective of who starts this negative conversation looping, the recipient’s ego is usually attacked resulting into a mental alertness to any utterance that may appear to be degrading or undermining and a readiness to intercept and dispel it verbally immediately it exits the speaker’s mouth.

iv) Immaturity: Infants, yes our children understand just one thing when it comes to expressing their opinions and that is the acceptance of their desire and the satisfying of it. Do whatever you will do, the child’s position is that you must satisfy their desire, you must give them what they want or they will just keep crying or even throw tantrums. As they grow and mature, we gradually enforce the reality that you do not always get what you want; they resist this attack on their BOSSHOOD with tantrums and depending on how we handle it, the child will mature into either a balanced grownup or one who will remain the little child who throws tantrums trapped in a grownup’s body. These immature adults will just want what they want no matter what reasoning you present against it for their own and community good. How do you handle these spoilt kids trapped in adult bodies? This will be dealt with in the sub section on Remedies.

v) Personality conflicts: Please reflect on the following questions:

a) Why are there opposition leaders and followers in our countries when we all want the same good things for ourselves and our families and working together in unity would make it easier to reach our goals faster?

b) Why do we just like some people and for no good reason just cannot tolerate others, even if you are blood related?

c) Why will you laugh at someone’s stupidity and remain friends but will not give a damn whatever the wisdom in another’s utterances?

d) Why would another’s voice appeal to you just for the sake while another voice however full of good things will  just irritate you?

d) Why will a lady fall in love (whatever love means to you) with that guy you grossly undermine and not you who feels so highly of yourself or whom others may claim is a darling? Same applies to a man falling in ‘love’ with a lady whom others think is whatever they think but he is forever head over heels?

The same questions above if asked in relation to speech interrupting behaviors, in relation to listening to respond instead of to understand can be convincingly said to have roots in personality conflicts. Some people just don’t click and you will grow old and die looking for the WHY without success. How do you remedy this problem compounding reality? The sub section on Remedies will give clues.

vi) Catalyst just for the sake: there are those who will incessantly interrupt conversations just for the sake of firing up the atmosphere of the discussion. You have seen adults who like provoking children into verbal exchanges to the extent that the child cries, they just have fun doing it with absolutely no regard for the child’s emotions. And when the child finally cannot take it any longer, these mini devils take their victims into their hands with joy and hypocritically sooth the 'child', others callously go the extra mile of scolding their victim into silence. These people exist even in some adult to adult conversations, their interest is just to hit and heat you up as much as they can for no productive reason, they are like opposition for opposition sake politicians who will just roar anti government sentiments even in scenarios that necessitate nothing of the sort. In the end, the beneficial utterances of the other are disrupted and in the end  blocking the possible self development wisdom the interrupter could have gained.

vii) Substance Influence: Why are mind altering things that are used by some individuals called substance by experts? Why do they even call their use of it abuse? Whenever anything is used contrary to expectation in a distortive or disruptive manner, we can qualify such usage as abuse. From this perspective, we agree that those who become disruptive in conversations after drinking, smoking marijuana or whichever, etc are most likely acting under the influence of such substances. Most of us have relations whether by blood, business, secular or whatever grounds who you just know once their substance fuel levels click certain points, no meaningful conversation can be achieved except just for the fun of talking to them. Can this bottleneck to meaningful listening be remedied? Yes Dear Its Possible!


Herein below are some suggested remedies to the common vice of listening to respond. Our forth coming book entitled 'Practical Approaches To STOP COMPOUNDING PROBLEMS'  will provide more detailed guidance on the subject.

a) Exercise reflective openness: this mental action leads you to challenge your own understanding in order to gain higher intellectual ground. We have to accept that each one us always has something new to learn, that there is something new out there for us, that what we have in the form of understanding can be polished even if they were right. This understanding will help us exercise the openness to reflect on whatever we hear in order to determine whether they really need refuting , whether they really need responding to or if they just call for internalizing, affirming and accepting for use in our lives and livelihoods.

For we can never know how stupid an idea is unless we have properly listened to it, internalized it and concluded from an informed perspective that it is what we have assessed it to be by our standards.

b) Exercise participative openness: speak your mind freely in order to be clearly understood and either complimented, corrected or corroborated. When we lock ourselves in the premise that we are right and have to be listened to and seconded, the chances of listening to respond or refute will be a very likely fate for us; you will be on the alert for anything that challenges your belief systems and ready to jump to the defense, sometimes prematurely.

Yes, be open to challenges to your viewpoints and in that way, you will gain a lot more new ideas, approaches as well as affirmations to your positions on matters.

c) Challenge your own thinking: as we previously highlighted, there are times when we need to look inwards before challenging the words and concepts presented from without us. In other words, there are moments when you need to listen to others as though you had not any opinion of your own, shelving your own idea so that your mind has the space and time to internalize and qualify the message it is receiving for what it is in reality; valuable sensible input, outright silliness, new idea to your brain or just the same thing as you hold but expressed differently. As the saying goes, you should always hold the position that there is always something to learn from others so;

For now, we conclude by encouraging each of you to observe the child in the cover photo and ask yourself whether you have the intelligence to sustain that level of LISTENING PATIENCE for the required span that allows the one speaking to complete the development of their point for you to understand and benefit from; the benefit can be your gaining something from the speaker or confirming their level of stupidity as compared to your own level or it's opposite. The risk of lacking the listening patience the child displays in the photo is that you might expose your idiocy that otherwise could have been buried prior to embarrassing yourself! 

Keep in expectation of 'Practical Approaches To STOP COMPOUNDING PROBLEMS' in which this subject is further developed.

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Nelson Ebong
Written by

Nelson Ebong

Being Of Effective Service by sharing knowledge and skills both experiential, which is most impacting, and learned, which can be hypothetical but all the same essential in the journey towards the mastery of living that is fulfilling and positively contributory to improving our world

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