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Barrier Three: Trying to be Helpful

Another significant barrier to good listening is “trying to be helpful”. This is an easy trap to fall into. Imagine your speaker is searching for the right word to convey their message. You jump in with suggestions. Your only intent is to help the speaker finish their thought. We all have experienced that moment when we can’t remember a word that would express our idea well.

Trying to be helpful causes the listener to slip from their role as attentive or empathic listener to becoming a problem solver. The intent is generally good but in practice our interruption will derail the message and potentially devalue the person speaking.

Intervening while a person is speaking creates a problem. Not only does it distract the speaker, it may also derail you, the listener. Whenever your thoughts are focused on how to solve the speaker’s problem your thoughts are not on their message (intermittent listening) and you will miss hearing all of what they are saying.

This kind of interruption may convey an unintended message from you to the speaker. Your rapid-fire solution may imply that you do not entirely trust the speaker’s ability to solve a problem. Remember too that people may wish to discuss an issue as their own way of clarifying a problem, not because they are looking for input from others. There are times when the best help you can offer the speaker is to be their sounding board… silently.

If the speaker has asked for your input, it is still prudent to hear them out fully. You cannot provide meaningful advice until you have all the facts from the person you are trying to help. At that point you can work together to set aside time for talking through possible solutions.