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Better Listening Skills Now

Listening for the Fine Print

ARTICLE TOOLS

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		  Listening for the Fine Print   

 My aerobics classmates looked amazed when I nonchalantly tore the white tags from the gym's new foam exercise mats. The tags read "UNDER PENALTY OF LAW THIS TAG IS NOT BE TO REMOVED except by consumer." (I suspect the mattresses in their homes may still have the tags attached.) They hadn't looked for, or noticed, the fine print.   

In fact, many of them may never have read beyond the first lines on their labels. The fine print in contracts generally comes at the end. The specific details in news stories also comes towards the end, well after the headlines. And the "fine print" in personal accounts that people share with us in conversation tend to show up later on.   

Sometimes those details are sprinkled throughout and, like small forest animals, require alertness and awareness to notice and hear. Big problems in listening that cause us to miss small but critical details include:   

1. Jumping to conclusions . Assuming we already know what's coming.   

2. Impatience , often because the listener wants a turn to talk. Problems in talking include these:   

Rambling, disgressing, not getting to the important details. 
Pauses that signal "I'm through" when there is more to be said. 
The talker says, "I've been looking for a bank card that rewards you with airmiles on all major carriers. I finally found one with First Credit Bank. It's got a low APR and small annual fee . . ." 

"Great," says the listener, thinking about signing up. "Gotta run now."   

Anything missing? How about the fine print?   

Lots of blackout dates. 
Miles expire within one year. 
Difficult to get seating during high travel seasons. 
Must stay over on Saturday night. 
These would have come later, had the listener asked, or taken time for the whole story. Instead, he got only the headlines. A few simple adjustments by either the talker or the listener could bring out the full account. 

For example, the talker could preface her remarks by saying "I found a bank card that gives airmiles on all major carriers. However, it's got some difficult restrictions, even though its fees are low. Let me explain."   

The listener could avoid jumping to conclusions by asking, "How about restrictions? Are there any downsides with this offer?" Either way, it would be possible now to get to the fine print. Frequently, marketers, politicians, and even social friends, tend to start with their good news while leaving the awkward details until later on in the story.   

To get to the details, we must listen more thoroughly, often asking explicitly for the details. After all, as the bureaucrats are fond of saying, "The devil is in the details." In this hurry-up world, impatient to get on to the next thing, many of us tend to catch only the bold headlines of a story and not take time to learn the "insignificant details."   

Sometimes it doesn't matter. But often, it does, causing us to form half-baked conclusions, or to take actions we later regret. Conversations can be messy, long, rambling, incomplete.   

But the process is a mutual effort, with each person helping the other to get the whole story out and develop a fuller understanding. Although these communications are almost always a partial failure, we can narrow the gap of misunderstanding by taking the time to look for, or to share, the fine print.  


		


Loren Ekroth 2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

Contact at Loren@conversationmatters.com
Check resources and archived articles at www.conversationmatters.com.