The point of understanding the way we internally process information, or in other words the process of listening, is to enhance our ability to gather information accurately; to improve communication. Far too often, we rarely hear what the other person is actually trying to tell us. As a result our communications breakdown, and everyone involved becomes frustrated.

An analogy for understanding the way we process information is the computer. Computers run on memory. Each program that runs on our computers and phones have the code stored somewhere. And from this code the computer will know what to do, what actions to take given a certain input.

People are very similar. We have been programmed by all our experiences. We store all of that information somewhere in our Brain, and when we are exposed to certain information, an input we run it through our memories in order to determine what to do.

Unlike computers our memories aren’t lines of code that are executed when recalled with mechanic simplicity. Instead, our memories were created at different times and store more information than just code.

Some times our memories of what information means might be wrong. In order to test the accuracy of our interpretations, to slow our reactions, and to listen effectively we need to understand the sources of information that make up our memory bank of meanings.

A quick note here on emotions; most emotions have a purpose, they motivate an action.

For example, if you are feeling anxious, that anxiety will likely lead you to some type of action either withdrawing from whatever is making you anxious (flight) or an action to solve the cause of your anxiety (fight). So, when thinking of emotions that are brought up when we interpret information, ask yourself, does this emotion or feeling have a purpose, and if so, what is it?

There are several places ways in which we create the memories which help us to interpret information. One of them is the concept of experiences and associations. Experiences and Associations work like this:

I experienced something like this in the past and the outcome was X, I am now experiencing something similar to the past experience so the likely outcome will again be X.

Is this idea true, absolutely not, is it possibly true, yes. The association might be right, and depending on how many times you think you have experienced something similar, you will have a confirmation of this association. From an evolutionary perspective this idea makes sense. If a past situation confronted us with a certain type of danger or opportunity, then in the future we would want to be aware of that same type of scenario in an attempt to either avoid it or use it to our advantage. It would make us faster, more likely to survive.

This becomes problematic on several different levels. First of all it leads to assumptions where we end up missing key details about the information we are being exposed to. These assumptions cause an emotional reaction related to original experience. Some people are unaware that they are experiencing an emotional reaction. They think that the current situation they are in, the information they are being exposed to, is causing them to feel a certain type of way.

Although it is true that the current information is causing them to feel something, the real cause of the emotional response has nothing to do with the current conversation. Rather the reaction has everything to do with the association to the past memory of a similar type of situation. This emotional response has a purpose, and will likely cause us to take some type of unconscious action.

This idea of associations and emotional responses diminishes our ability to effectively listen. Once we associate the information with a certain experience in our past, we internally react to the association. Communication breaks down because we lose the ability to listen to the message. Our perceptive abilities are greatly diminished because our attention has been shifted elsewhere by our emotions.

It would be unrealistic to think that emotions can be controlled, because they can’t be. However when we are aware of the purpose of emotions, and why they have been triggered, then we are given the ability to choose, and we have control. This simple awareness allows us to become effective listeners because we are focused on the other person.

If you would like to learn more about effective listening  and communication you can download the Burwick Consulting E-Book. It won’t cost you much, just you email address. Please feel free to submit any questions you might have to max@burwickconsulting.com.