Definition of psychologyPsychology is the scientific study of human and animal behavior with the object ofunderstanding why living beings behave as they do. As almost any science, its discoveries havepractical applications. As it is a rather new science, applications are sometimes confused with thescience itself. It is easier to distinguish what is pure and applied in older disciplines: everybodycan separate physics and mathematics from engineering, or anatomy and physiology frommedicine. People often confound psychology with psychiatry, which is a branch of medicinededicated to the cure of mental disorders.Some topics that pure psychologists may study are: how behavior changes with development,when a behavior is instinctive or learned, how persons differ, and how people get into trouble.Applied psychologists may use scientific knowledge to find better ways to deal withadolescents, to teach, to match persons with jobs, and to get people out of their troubles.Accordingly, several branches exist of psychology: developmental psychology, animalpsychology, educational psychology, psychotherapy, industrial psychology, psychology ofpersonality, social psychology, are but some of them.Physiological psychology is a field akin to neurophysiology that studies the relation betweenbehavior and body systems like the nervous system and the endocrine system. It studies whichbrain regions are involved in psychic functions like memory, and activities like learning. It alsostudies the complex interaction between brain and hormones that gives rise to emotions.Animal behavior is studied by psychologists mainly in laboratory. The study of animal behaviorin their natural habitats is undertaken by the science of ethology. The comparative study ofhuman and animal behavior is one of the sources of evolutionary psychology, that tries tounderstand how evolution has shaped the way we think and feel.Educational psychology concentrates on those aspects of the psychic activity that have to do withlearning. Experimenting with animals and people, it tries to understand how they learn, and todevise better ways of teaching. A psychological school, known as behaviorism, maintains thatevery human behavior is a learned response to a stimulus, and consequently tried to establishlearning as the central topic of psychology.The area of cognitive psychology concerns with the ways we perceive and we express, how westore our perceptions and later recall them, and the way we think. Perception, memory, speech,and thinking are the main subjects of this branch. The study of decision making is a topic thathas a great practical importance.The study of emotion and the study of personality are two related fields that delve into theprofound question of why we are different and why we feel how we feel. While some scientistspropose genetic traits as the reason, others look to the social environment as the cause of ourdifferences.
5.2 Barriers to Effective ListeningLearning ObjectivesDiscuss some of the environmental and physical barriers to effective listening.Explain how cognitive and personal factors can present barriers to effective listening.Discuss common bad listening practices.Barriers to effective listening are present at every stage of the listening process.OwenHargie, SkilledInterpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 200. At thereceiving stage, noise can block or distort incoming stimuli. At the interpreting stage, complex orabstract information may be difficult to relate to previous experiences, making it difficult to reachunderstanding. At the recalling stage, natural limits to our memory and challenges to concentration caninterfere with remembering. At the evaluating stage, personal biases and prejudices can lead us to blockpeople out or assume we know what they are going to say. At the responding stage, a lack ofparaphrasing and questioning skills can lead to misunderstanding. In the following section, we willexplore how environmental and physical factors, cognitive and personal factors, and bad listeningpractices present barriers to effective listening.Environmental and Physical Barriers to ListeningEnvironmental factors such as lighting, temperature, and furniture affect our ability to listen. A roomthat is too dark can make us sleepy, just as a room that is too warm or cool can raise awareness of ourphysical discomfort to a point that it is distracting. Some seating arrangements facilitate listening, whileothers separate people. In general, listening is easier when listeners can make direct eye contact withand are in close physical proximity to a speaker. You may recall from Chapter 4 "NonverbalCommunication" that when group members are allowed to choose a leader, they often choose theperson who is sitting at the center or head of the table.Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication:Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 57–58. Even though the person may nothave demonstrated any leadership abilities, people subconsciously gravitate toward speakers that arenonverbally accessible. The ability to effectively see and hear a person increases people’s confidence intheir abilities to receive and process information. Eye contact and physical proximity can still be affectedby noise. As we learned in Chapter 1 "Introduction to Communication Studies", environmental noisessuch as a whirring air conditioner, barking dogs, or a ringing fire alarm can obviously interfere withlistening despite direct lines of sight and well-placed furniture.
Physiological noise, like environmental noise, can interfere with our ability to process incominginformation. This is considered a physical barrier to effective listening because it emanates from ourphysical body. Physiological noise is noise stemming from a physical illness, injury, or bodily stress.Ailments such as a cold, a broken leg, a headache, or a poison ivy outbreak can range from annoying tounbearably painful and impact our listening relative to their intensity. Another type of noise,psychological noise, bridges physical and cognitive barriers to effective listening. Psychological noise, ornoise stemming from our psychological states including moods and level of arousal, can facilitate orimpede listening. Any mood or state of arousal, positive or negative, that is too far above or below ourregular baseline creates a barrier to message reception and processing. The generally positive emotionalstate of being in love can be just as much of a barrier as feeling hatred. Excited arousal can also distractas much as anxious arousal. Stress about an upcoming events ranging from losing a job, to havingsurgery, to wondering about what to eat for lunch can overshadow incoming messages. While we willexplore cognitive barriers to effective listening more in the next section, psychological noise is relevanthere given that the body and mind are not completely separate. In fact, they can interact in ways thatfurther interfere with listening. Fatigue, for example, is usually a combination of psychological andphysiological stresses that manifests as stress (psychological noise) and weakness, sleepiness, andtiredness (physiological noise). Additionally, mental anxiety (psychological noise) can also manifest itselfin our bodies through trembling, sweating, blushing, or even breaking out in rashes (physiological noise).Cognitive and Personal Barriers to ListeningAside from the barriers to effective listening that may be present in the environment or emanate fromour bodies, cognitive limits, a lack of listening preparation, difficult or disorganized messages, andprejudices can interfere with listening. Whether you call it multitasking, daydreaming, glazing over, ordrifting off, we all cognitively process other things while receiving messages. If you think of yourlistening mind as a wall of ten televisions, you may notice that in some situations five of the tentelevisions are tuned into one channel. If that one channel is a lecture being given by your professor,then you are exerting about half of your cognitive processing abilities on one message. In anothersituation, all ten televisions may be on different channels. The fact that we have the capability toprocess more than one thing at a time offers some advantages and disadvantages. But unless we canbetter understand how our cognitive capacities and personal preferences affect our listening, we arelikely to experience more barriers than benefits.Difference between Speech and Thought RateOur ability to process more information than what comes from one speaker or source creates a barrierto effective listening. While people speak at a rate of 125 to 175 words per minute, we can processbetween 400 and 800 words per minute.OwenHargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research,Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 195. This gap between speech rate and thought rategives us an opportunity to side-process any number of thoughts that can be distracting from a more
Technology, Multitasking, and ListeningDo you like to listen to music while you do homework? Do you clean your apartment while talking toyour mom on the phone? Do you think students should be allowed to use laptops in all collegeclassrooms? Your answers to these questions will point to your preferences for multitasking. If youanswered “yes” to most of them, then you are in line with the general practices of the “net generation”of digital natives for whom multitasking, especially with various forms of media, is a way of life.Multitasking is a concept that has been around for a while and emerged along with the increasingexpectation that we will fill multiple role demands throughout the day. Multitasking can be prettystraightforward and beneficial—for example, if we listen to motivating music while working out. Butmultitasking can be very inefficient, especially when one or more of our concurrent tasks are complex orunfamiliar to us.FleuraBardhi, Andres J. Rohm, and Fareena Sultan, “Tuning in and Tuning out: MediaMultitasking among Young Consumers,” Journal of Consumer Behaviour 9 (2010): 318.Media multitasking specifically refers to the use of multiple forms of media at the same time, and it canhave positive and negative effects on listening.FleuraBardhi, Andres J. Rohm, and Fareena Sultan,“Tuning in and Tuning out: Media Multitasking among Young Consumers,” Journal of ConsumerBehaviour 9 (2010): 322. The negative effects of media multitasking have received much attention inrecent years, as people question the decreasing attention span within our society. Media multitaskingmay promote inefficiency, because it can lead to distractions and plays a prominent role for many inprocrastination. The numerous options for media engagement that we have can also lead to a feeling ofchaos as our attention is pulled in multiple directions, creating a general sense of disorder. And many ofus feel a sense of enslavement when we engage in media multitasking, as we feel like we can’t livewithout certain personal media outlets.Media multitasking can also give people a sense of control, as they use multiple technologies to accessvarious points of information to solve a problem or complete a task. An employee may be able to useher iPad to look up information needed to address a concern raised during a business meeting. Shecould then e-mail that link to the presenter, who could share it with the room through his laptop and aLCD projector. Media multitasking can also increase efficiency, as people can carry out tasks faster. Thelinks to videos and online articles that I’ve included in this textbook allow readers like you to quicklyaccess additional information about a particular subject to prepare for a presentation or complete apaper assignment. Media multitasking can also increase engagement. Aside from just reading material ina textbook, students can now access information through an author’s blog or Twitter account.
Media multitasking can produce an experience that feels productive, but is it really? What are theconsequences of our media- and technology-saturated world? Although many of us like to think thatwe’re good multitaskers, some research indicates otherwise. For example, student laptop use duringclass has been connected to lower academic performance.Carrie B. Fried, “In-Class Laptop Use and ItsEffects on Student Learning,” Computers and Education 50 (2008): 906–14. This is because mediamultitasking has the potential to interfere with listening at multiple stages of the process. The studyshowed that laptop use interfered with receiving, as students using them reported that they paid lessattention to the class lectures. This is because students used the laptops for purposes other than takingnotes or exploring class content. Of the students using laptops, 81 percent checked e-mail duringlectures, 68 percent used instant messaging, and 43 percent surfed the web. Students using laptops alsohad difficulty with the interpretation stage of listening, as they found less clarity in the parts of thelecture they heard and did not understand the course material as much as students who didn’t use alaptop. The difficulties with receiving and interpreting obviously create issues with recall that can lead tolower academic performance in the class. Laptop use also negatively affected the listening abilities ofstudents not using laptops. These students reported that they were distracted, as their attention wasdrawn to the laptop screens of other students.What are some common ways that you engage in media multitasking? What are some positive andnegative consequences of your media multitasking?What strategies do you or could you use to help minimize the negative effects of media multitasking?Should laptops, smartphones, and other media devices be used by students during college classes?Why or why not? What restrictions or guidelines for use could instructors provide that would capitalizeon the presence of such media to enhance student learning and help minimize distractions?Lack of Listening PreparationAnother barrier to effective listening is a general lack of listening preparation. Unfortunately, mostpeople have never received any formal training or instruction related to listening. Although some peoplethink listening skills just develop over time, competent listening is difficult, and enhancing listening skillstakes concerted effort. Even when listening education is available, people do not embrace it as readily asthey do opportunities to enhance their speaking skills. After teaching communication courses for severalyears, I have consistently found that students and teachers approach the listening part of the course lessenthusiastically than some of the other parts. Listening is often viewed as an annoyance or a chore, orjust ignored or minimized as part of the communication process. In addition, our individualistic societyvalues speaking more than listening, as it’s the speakers who are sometimes literally in the spotlight.Although listening competence is a crucial part of social interaction and many of us value others we
perceive to be “good listeners,” listening just doesn’t get the same kind of praise, attention, instruction,or credibility as speaking. Teachers, parents, and relational partners explicitly convey the importance oflistening through statements like “You better listen to me,” “Listen closely,” and “Listen up,” but thesedemands are rarely paired with concrete instruction. So unless you plan on taking more communicationcourses in the future (and I hope you do), this chapter may be the only instruction you receive on thebasics of the listening process, some barriers to effective listening, and how we can increase ourlistening competence.Bad Messages and/or SpeakersBad messages and/or speakers also present a barrier to effective listening. Sometimes our troublelistening originates in the sender. In terms of message construction, poorly structured messages ormessages that are too vague, too jargon filled, or too simple can present listening difficulties. In terms ofspeakers’ delivery, verbal fillers, monotone voices, distracting movements, or a disheveled appearancecan inhibit our ability to cognitively process a message.OwenHargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction:Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 196. As we will learn in Section 5.2.3 "BadListening Practices", speakers can employ particular strategies to create listenable messages that takesome of the burden off the listener by tailoring a message to be heard and processed easily. Chapter 9"Preparing a Speech" also discusses many strategies for creating messages tailored for oral delivery,including things like preview and review statements, transitions, and parallel wording. Listening alsobecomes difficult when a speaker tries to present too much information. Information overload is acommon barrier to effective listening that good speakers can help mitigate by building redundancy intotheir speeches and providing concrete examples of new information to help audience membersinterpret and understand the key ideas.PrejudiceOscar Wilde said, “Listening is a very dangerous thing. If one listens one may be convinced.”Unfortunately, some of our default ways of processing information and perceiving others lead us to rigidways of thinking. When we engage in prejudiced listening, we are usually trying to preserve our ways ofthinking and avoid being convinced of something different. This type of prejudice is a barrier to effectivelistening, because when we prejudge a person based on his or her identity or ideas, we usually stoplistening in an active and/or ethical way.We exhibit prejudice in our listening in several ways, some of which are more obvious than others. Forexample, we may claim to be in a hurry and only selectively address the parts of a message that weagree with or that aren’t controversial. We can also operate from a state of denial where we avoid asubject or person altogether so that our views are not challenged. Prejudices that are based on a
person’s identity, such as race, age, occupation, or appearance, may lead us to assume that we knowwhat he or she will say, essentially closing down the listening process. Keeping an open mind andengaging in perception checking can help us identify prejudiced listening and hopefully shift into morecompetent listening practices.Bad Listening PracticesThe previously discussed barriers to effective listening may be difficult to overcome because they are atleast partially beyond our control. Physical barriers, cognitive limitations, and perceptual biases existwithin all of us, and it is more realistic to believe that we can become more conscious of and lessenthem than it is to believe that we can eliminate them altogether. Other “bad listening” practices may behabitual, but they are easier to address with some concerted effort. These bad listening practicesinclude interrupting, distorted listening, eavesdropping, aggressive listening, narcissistic listening, andpseudo-listening.InterruptingConversations unfold as a series of turns, and turn taking is negotiated through a complex set of verbaland nonverbal signals that are consciously and subconsciously received. In this sense, conversationalturn taking has been likened to a dance where communicators try to avoid stepping on each other’stoes. One of the most frequent glitches in the turn-taking process is interruption, but not allinterruptions are considered “bad listening.” An interruption could be unintentional if we misread cuesand think a person is done speaking only to have him or her start up again at the same time we do.Sometimes interruptions are more like overlapping statements that show support (e.g., “I think so too.”)or excitement about the conversation (e.g., “That’s so cool!”). Back-channel cues like “uh-huh,” as welearned earlier, also overlap with a speaker’s message. We may also interrupt out of necessity if we’reengaged in a task with the other person and need to offer directions (e.g., “Turn left here.”), instructions(e.g., “Will you whisk the eggs?”), or warnings (e.g., “Look out behind you!”). All these interruptions arenot typically thought of as evidence of bad listening unless they become distracting for the speaker orare unnecessary.Unintentional interruptions can still be considered bad listening if they result from mindlesscommunication. As we’ve already learned, intended meaning is not as important as the meaning that isgenerated in the interaction itself. So if you interrupt unintentionally, but because you were only half-listening, then the interruption is still evidence of bad listening. The speaker may form a negativeimpression of you that can’t just be erased by you noting that you didn’t “mean to interrupt.”Interruptions can also be used as an attempt to dominate a conversation. A person engaging in this typeof interruption may lead the other communicator to try to assert dominance, too, resulting in a
competition to see who can hold the floor the longest or the most often. More than likely, though, thespeaker will form a negative impression of the interrupter and may withdraw from the conversation.Distorted ListeningDistorted listening occurs in many ways. Sometimes we just get the order of information wrong, whichcan have relatively little negative effects if we are casually recounting a story, annoying effects if weforget the order of turns (left, right, left or right, left, right?) in our driving directions, or very negativeeffects if we recount the events of a crime out of order, which leads to faulty testimony at a criminaltrial. Rationalization is another form of distorted listening through which we adapt, edit, or skewincoming information to fit our existing schemata. We may, for example, reattribute the cause ofsomething to better suit our own beliefs. If a professor is explaining to a student why he earned a “D” onhis final paper, the student could reattribute the cause from “I didn’t follow the paper guidelines” to“this professor is an unfair grader.” Sometimes we actually change the words we hear to make thembetter fit what we are thinking. This can easily happen if we join a conversation late, overhear part of aconversation, or are being a lazy listener and miss important setup and context. Passing along distortedinformation can lead to negative consequences ranging from starting a false rumor about someone topassing along incorrect medical instructions from one health-care provider to the next.OwenHargie,Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 191. Last,the addition of material to a message is a type of distorted listening that actually goes against ournormal pattern of listening, which involves reducing the amount of information and losing somemeaning as we take it in. The metaphor of “weaving a tall tale” is related to the practice of distortingthrough addition, as inaccurate or fabricated information is added to what was actually heard. Additionof material is also a common feature of gossip. An excellent example of the result of distorted listeningis provided by the character Anthony Crispino on Saturday Night Live, who passes along distorted newson the “Weekend Update” segment. In past episodes, he has noted that Lebron James turned down theCleveland Show to be on Miami Vice (instead of left the Cleveland Cavaliers to play basketball for theMiami Heat) and that President Obama planned on repealing the “Bush haircuts” (instead of the Bushtax cuts).EavesdroppingEavesdropping is a bad listening practice that involves a calculated and planned attempt to secretlylisten to a conversation. There is a difference between eavesdropping on and overhearing aconversation. Many if not most of the interactions we have throughout the day occur in the presence ofother people. However, given that our perceptual fields are usually focused on the interaction, we areoften unaware of the other people around us or don’t think about the fact that they could be listening inon our conversation. We usually only become aware of the fact that other people could be listening inwhen we’re discussing something private.
toward Deb isn’t about a salsa garden; it’s about a building frustration with what Summer perceives asDeb’s lack of follow-through on her ideas. Aside from engaging in aggressive listening because of built-up frustration, such listeners may also attack others’ ideas or mock their feelings because of their ownlow self-esteem and insecurities.Narcissistic ListeningNarcissistic listening is a form of self-centered and self-absorbed listening in which listeners try to makethe interaction about them.StevenMcCornack, Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to InterpersonalCommunication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 212. Narcissistic listeners redirect the focus ofthe conversation to them by interrupting or changing the topic. When the focus is taken off them,narcissistic listeners may give negative feedback by pouting, providing negative criticism of the speakeror topic, or ignoring the speaker. A common sign of narcissistic listening is the combination of a “pivot,”when listeners shift the focus of attention back to them, and “one-upping,” when listeners try to topwhat previous speakers have said during the interaction. You can see this narcissistic combination in thefollowing interaction:Bryce: My boss has been really unfair to me lately and hasn’t been letting me work around my classschedule. I think I may have to quit, but I don’t know where I’ll find another job.Toby: Why are you complaining? I’ve been working with the same stupid boss for two years. Hedoesn’t even care that I’m trying to get my degree and work at the same time. And you should hear theway he talks to me in front of the other employees.Narcissistic listeners, given their self-centeredness, may actually fool themselves into thinking that theyare listening and actively contributing to a conversation. We all have the urge to share our own storiesduring interactions, because other people’s communication triggers our own memories about relatedexperiences. It is generally more competent to withhold sharing our stories until the other person hasbeen able to speak and we have given the appropriate support and response. But we all shift the focusof a conversation back to us occasionally, either because we don’t know another way to respond orbecause we are making an attempt at empathy. Narcissistic listeners consistently interrupt or followanother speaker with statements like “That reminds me of the time…,” “Well, if I were you…,” and“That’s nothing…”Michael P. Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 1995), 68–72. As we’ll learn later, matching stories isn’t considered empathetic listening, but occasionally doing itdoesn’t make you a narcissistic listener.Pseudo-listening
Do you have a friend or family member who repeats stories? If so, then you’ve probably engaged inpseudo-listening as a politeness strategy. Pseudo-listening is behaving as if you’re paying attention to aspeaker when you’re actually not.StevenMcCornack, Reflect and Relate: An Introduction toInterpersonal Communication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 208. Outwardly visible signals ofattentiveness are an important part of the listening process, but when they are just an “act,” thepseudo-listener is engaging in bad listening behaviors. She or he is not actually going through the stagesof the listening process and will likely not be able to recall the speaker’s message or offer a competentand relevant response. Although it is a bad listening practice, we all understandably engage in pseudo-listening from time to time. If a friend needs someone to talk but you’re really tired or experiencingsome other barrier to effective listening, it may be worth engaging in pseudo-listening as a relationalmaintenance strategy, especially if the friend just needs a sounding board and isn’t expecting advice orguidance. We may also pseudo-listen to a romantic partner or grandfather’s story for the fifteenth timeto prevent hurting their feelings. We should avoid pseudo-listening when possible and should definitelyavoid making it a listening habit. Although we may get away with it in some situations, each time we riskbeing “found out,” which could have negative relational consequences.Key TakeawaysEnvironmental and physical barriers to effective listening include furniture placement, environmentalnoise such as sounds of traffic or people talking, physiological noise such as a sinus headache or hunger,and psychological noise such as stress or anger.Cognitive barriers to effective listening include the difference between speech and thought rate thatallows us “extra room” to think about other things while someone is talking and limitations in our abilityor willingness to concentrate or pay attention. Personal barriers to effective listening include a lack oflistening preparation, poorly structured and/or poorly delivered messages, and prejudice.There are several bad listening practices that we should avoid, as they do not facilitate effectivelistening:Interruptions that are unintentional or serve an important or useful purpose are not considered badlistening. When interrupting becomes a habit or is used in an attempt to dominate a conversation, thenit is a barrier to effective listening.Distorted listening occurs when we incorrectly recall information, skew information to fit ourexpectations or existing schemata, or add material to embellish or change information.Eavesdropping is a planned attempt to secretly listen to a conversation, which is a violation of thespeakers’ privacy.
Aggressive listening is a bad listening practice in which people pay attention to a speaker in order toattack something they say.Narcissistic listening is self-centered and self-absorbed listening in which listeners try to make theinteraction about them by interrupting, changing the subject, or drawing attention away from others.Pseudo-listening is “fake listening,” in that people behave like they are paying attention andlistening when they actually are not.ExercisesWe are capable of thinking faster than the speed at which the average person speaks, which allows ussome room to put mental faculties toward things other than listening. What typically makes your mindwander?Bad speakers and messages are a common barrier to effective listening. Describe a time recentlywhen your ability to listen was impaired by the poor delivery and/or content of another person.Of the bad listening practices listed, which do you use the most? Why do you think you use this onemore than the others? What can you do to help prevent or lessen this barrier?Eight barriers to effective listeningMore attention is usually paid to making people better speakers or writers (the "supply side" of thecommunication chain) rather than on making them better listeners or readers (the "demand side"). Themost direct way to improve communication is by learning to listen more effectively.Nearly every aspect of human life could be improved by better listening -- from family matters tocorporate business affairs to international relations.Most of us are terrible listeners. Were such poor listeners, in fact, that we dont know how muchwere missing.The following are eight common barriers to good listening, with suggestions for overcomingeach.
#1 - Knowing the answer"Knowing the answer" means that you think you already know what the speaker wants to say,before she actually finishes saying it. You might then impatiently cut her off or try to completethe sentence for her.Even more disruptive is interrupting her by saying that you disagree with her, but without lettingher finish saying what it is that you think you disagree with. Thats a common problem when adiscussion gets heated, and which causes the discussion to degrade quickly.By interrupting the speaker before letting her finish, youre essentially saying that you dont valuewhat shes saying. Showing respect to the speaker is a crucial element of good listening.The "knowing the answer" barrier also causes the listener to pre-judge what the speaker is saying-- a kind of closed-mindedness.A good listener tries to keep an open, receptive mind. He looks for opportunities to stretch hismind when listening, and to acquire new ideas or insights, rather than reinforcing existing pointsof view.Strategy for overcoming this barrierA simple strategy for overcoming the "knowing the answer" barrier is to wait for three secondsafter the speaker finishes before beginning your reply.Three seconds can seem like a very long time during a heated discussion, and following this rulealso means that you might have to listen for a long time before the other person finally stopsspeaking. Thats usually a good thing, because it gives the speaker a chance to fully vent his orher feelings.Another strategy is to schedule a structured session during which only one person speaks whilethe other listens. You then switch roles in the next session.Its worth emphasizing that the goal of good listening is simply to listen -- nothing more and nothing less.During the session when you play the role of listener, you are only allowed to ask supportivequestions or seek clarification of the speakers points. You may not make any points of your ownduring this session. That can be tricky, because some peoples "questions" tend to be more likestatements.Keeping the mind open during conversation requires discipline and practice. One strategy is tomake a commitment to learn at least one unexpected, worthwhile thing during everyconversation. The decision to look for something new and interesting helps make your mindmore open and receptive while listening.
Using this strategy, most people will probably discover at least one gem -- and often more thanone -- no matter whom the conversation is with.#2 - Trying to be helpfulAnother significant barrier to good listening is "trying to be helpful". Although trying to behelpful may seem beneficial, it interferes with listening because the listener is thinking abouthow to solve what he perceives to be the speakers problem. Consequently, he misses what thespeaker is actually saying.An old Zen proverb says, "When walking, walk. When eating, eat." In other words, give yourwhole attention to whatever youre doing. Its worth emphasizing that the goal of good listeningis simply to listen -- nothing more and nothing less. Interrupting the speaker in order to offeradvice disrupts the flow of conversation, and impairs the listeners ability to understand thespeakers experience.Many people have a "messiah complex" and try to fix or rescue other people as a way of feelingfulfilled. Such people usually get a kick out of being problem-solvers, perhaps because it givesthem a sense of importance. However, that behavior can be a huge hurdle to good listening.Trying to be helpful while listening also implies that youve made certain judgments about thespeaker. That can raise emotional barriers to communication, as judgments can mean that thelistener doesnt have complete understanding or respect for the speaker.In a sense, giving a person your undivided attention while listening is the purest act of love youcan offer. Because human beings are such social animals, simply knowing that another personhas listened and understood is empowering. Often thats all a person needs in order to solve theproblems on his or her own.If you as a listener step in and heroically offer your solution, youre implying that youre morecapable of seeing the solution than the speaker is.If the speaker is describing a difficult or long-term problem, and you offer a facile, off-the-cuffsolution, youre probably forgetting that he or she may have already considered your instantsolution long before.
Strategy for overcoming this barrierSchedule a separate session for giving advice. Many people forget that its rude to offer advicewhen the speaker isnt asking for it. Even if the advice is good.In any case, a person can give better advice if he first listens carefully and understands thespeakers complete situation before trying to offer advice.If you believe you have valuable advice that the speaker isnt likely to know, then first politelyask if you may offer what you see as a possible solution. Wait for the speaker to clearly inviteyou to go ahead before you offer your advice.#3 - Treating discussion as competitionSome people feel that agreeing with the speaker during a heated discussion is a sign of weakness.They feel compelled to challenge every point the speaker makes, even if they inwardly agree.Discussion then becomes a contest, with a score being kept for who wins the most points byarguing.Treating discussion as competition is one of the most serious barriers to good listening. It greatlyinhibits the listener from stretching and seeing a different point of view. It can also be frustratingfor the speaker.Strategy for overcoming this barrierAlthough competitive debate serves many useful purposes, and can be great fun, debating shouldbe scheduled for a separate session of its own, where it wont interfere with good listening.Except in a very rare case where you truly disagree with absolutely everything the speaker issaying, you should avoid dismissing her statements completely. Instead, affirm the points ofagreement.Try to voice active agreement whenever you do agree, and be very specific about what youdisagree with.A good overall listening principle is to be generous with the speaker. Offer affirmative feedbackas often as you feel comfortable doing so. Generosity also entails clearly voicing exactly whereyou disagree, as well as where you agree.#4 - Trying to influence or impressBecause good listening depends on listening just for the sake of listening, any ulterior motivewill diminish the effectiveness of the listener. Examples of ulterior motives are trying to impressor to influence the speaker.
A person who has an agenda other than simply to understand what the speaker is thinking andfeeling will not be able to pay complete attention while listening.Psychologists have pointed out that people can understand language about two or three timesfaster than they can speak. That implies that a listener has a lot of extra mental "bandwidth" forthinking about other things while listening. A good listener knows how to use that spare capacityto think about what the speaker is talking about.A listener with an ulterior motive, such as to influence or impress the speaker, will probably usethe spare capacity to think about his "next move" in the conversation -- his rebuttal or what hewill say next when the speaker is finished -- instead of focusing on understanding the speaker.Strategy for overcoming this barrier"Trying to influence or impress" is a difficult barrier to overcome, because motives usually cantjust be willed away. Deciding not to have a motive usually only drives it beneath your awarenessso that it becomes a hidden motive.One strategy is to make note of your internal motives while youre listening. As you notice yourmotives in progressively closer and finer detail, youll eventually become more fully consciousof ulterior motives, and they may even unravel, allowing you to let go and listen just for the sakeof listening.#5 - Reacting to red flag wordsWords can provoke a reaction in the listener that wasnt necessarily what the speaker intended.When that happens the listener wont be able to hear or pay full attention to what the speaker issaying.Red flag words or expressions trigger an unexpectedly strong association in the listeners mind,often because of the listeners private beliefs or experiences.Technology is often seen as the driver of improved communications, but technology, in itself, createsnoise and discord as much as it melds minds.Good listeners have learned how to minimize the distraction caused by red flag words, but a redflag word will make almost any listener momentarily unable to hear with full attention.An important point is that the speaker may not have actually meant the word in the way that thelistener understood. However, the listener will be so distracted by the red flag that she will notnotice what the speaker actually did mean to say.Red flag words dont always provoke emotional reactions. Sometimes they just cause slightdisagreements or misunderstandings. Whenever a listener finds himself disagreeing or reacting,he should be on the lookout for red flag words or expressions.
Strategy for overcoming this barrierWhen a speaker uses a word or expression that triggers a reflexive association, you as a goodlistener can ask the speaker to confirm whether she meant to say what you think she said.When you hear a word or expression that raises a red flag, try to stop the conversation, ifpossible, so that you dont miss anything that the speaker says. Then ask the speaker to clarifyand explain the point in a different way.#6 - Believing in languageOne of the trickiest barriers is "believing in language" -- a misplaced trust in the precision ofwords.Language is a guessing game. Speaker and listener use language to predict what each other isthinking. Meaning must always be actively negotiated.Its a fallacy to think that a words dictionary definition can be transmitted directly through usingthe word. An example of that fallacy is revealed in the statement, "I said it perfectly clearly, sowhy didnt you understand?". Of course, the naive assumption here is that words that are clear toone person are clear to another, as if the words themselves contained absolute meaning.Words have a unique effect in the mind of each person, because each persons experience isunique. Those differences can be small, but the overall effect of the differences can become largeenough to cause misunderstanding.A worse problem is that words work by pointing at experiences shared by speaker and listener.If the listener hasnt had the experience that the speaker is using the word to point at, then theword points at nothing. Worse still, the listener may quietly substitute a different experience tomatch the word.Strategy for overcoming this barrierYou as a good listener ought to practice mistrusting the meaning of words. Ask the speakersupporting questions to cross-verify what the words mean to him.Dont assume that words or expressions mean exactly the same to you as they do to the speaker.You can stop the speaker and question the meaning of a word. Doing that too often also becomesan impediment, of course, but if you suspect that the speakers usage of the word might beslightly different, you ought to take time to explore that, before the difference leads tomisunderstanding.
#7 - Mixing up the forest and the treesA common saying refers to an inability "to see the forest for the trees". Sometimes people paysuch close attention to detail, that they miss the overall meaning or context of a situation.Some speakers are what we will call "trees" people. They prefer concrete, detailed explanations.They might explain a complex situation just by naming or describing its characteristics in noparticular order.Other speakers are "forest" people. When they have to explain complex situations, they prefer tobegin by giving a sweeping, abstract, birds-eye view.Good explanations usually involve both types, with the big-picture "forest" view providingcontext and overall meaning, and the specific "trees" view providing illuminating examples.When trying to communicate complex information, the speaker needs to accurately shift betweenforest and trees in order to show how the details fit into the big picture. However, speakers oftenforget to use "turn indicators" to signal that they are shifting from one to another, which cancause confusion or misunderstanding for the listener.Each style is prone to weaknesses in communication. For example, "trees" people often havetrouble telling their listener which of the details are more important and how those details fit intothe overall context. They can also fail to tell their listener that they are making a transition fromone thought to another -- a problem that quickly shows up in their writing, as well."Forest" people, on the other hand, often baffle their listeners with obscure abstractions. Theytend to prefer using concepts, but sometimes those concepts are so removed from the world ofthe senses that their listeners get lost."Trees" people commonly accuse "forest" people of going off on tangents or speaking inunwarranted generalities. "Forest" people commonly feel that "trees" people are too narrow andliteral.Strategy for overcoming this barrierYou as a good listener can explicitly ask the speaker for overall context or for specific exemplarydetails, as needed. You should cross-verify by asking the speaker how the trees fit together toform the forest. Having an accurate picture of how the details fit together is crucial tounderstanding the speakers thoughts.An important point to remember is that a "trees" speaker may become confused or irritated if youas the listener try to supply missing context, and a "forest" speaker may become impatient orannoyed if you try to supply missing examples.A more effective approach is to encourage the speaker to supply missing context or examples byasking him open-ended questions.
Asking open-ended questions when listening is generally more effective than asking closed-ended ones.For example, an open-ended question such as "Can you give me a concrete example of that?" isless likely to cause confusion or disagreement than a more closed-ended one such as "Wouldsuch-and-such be an example of what youre talking about?"Some speakers may even fail to notice that a closed-ended question is actually a question. Theymay then disagree with what they thought was a statement of opinion, and that will causedistracting friction or confusion.The strategy of asking open-ended questions, instead of closed-ended or leading questions, is animportant overall component of good listening.#8 - Over-splitting or over-lumpingSpeakers have different styles of organizing thoughts when explaining complex situations. Somespeakers, "splitters", tend to pay more attention to how things are different. Other speakers,"lumpers", tend to look for how things are alike. Perhaps this is a matter of temperament.If the speaker and listener are on opposite sides of the splitter-lumper spectrum, the differentmental styles can cause confusion or lack of understanding.A listener who is an over-splitter can inadvertently signal that he disagrees with the speaker overeverything, even if he actually agrees with most of what the speaker says and only disagrees witha nuance or point of emphasis.That can cause "noise" and interfere with the flow of conversation. Likewise, a listener who is anover-lumper can let crucial differences of opinion go unchallenged, which can lead to a seriousmisunderstanding later. The speaker will mistakenly assume that the listener has understood andagreed.Its important to achieve a good balance between splitting (critical thinking) and lumping(metaphorical thinking). Even more important is for the listener to recognize when the speaker issplitting and when she is lumping.Strategy for overcoming this barrierAn approach to overcoming this barrier when listening is to ask questions to determine moreprecisely where you agree or disagree with what the speaker is saying, and then to explicitlypoint that out, when appropriate.For example, you might say, "I think we have differing views on several points here, but do weat least agree that ... ?" or "We agree with each other on most of this, but I think we havedifferent views in the area of ...."
By actively voicing the points of convergence and divergence, the listener can create a moreaccurate mental model of the speakers mind. That reduces the conversational noise that can arisewhen speaker and listener fail to realize how their minds are aligned or unaligned.Quadrant of cognitive/explanatory stylesMore than one barrier may often be present at once. For example, a speaker might be an over-splitter who has trouble seeing the forest, while the listener is an over-lumper who can see onlythe forest and never the trees. They will have even more difficulty communicating if one or bothalso has the habit of "knowing the answer" or "treating discussion as competition".. . .Good listening is arguably one of the most important skills to have in todays complex world.Families need good listening to face complicated stresses together. Corporate employees need itto solve complex problems quickly and stay competitive. Students need it to understand complexissues in their fields. Much can be gained by improving listening skills.When the question of how to improve communication comes up, most attention is paid tomaking people better speakers or writers (the "supply side" of the communication chain) ratherthan on making them better listeners or readers (the "demand side").More depends on listening than on speaking. An especially skillful listener will know how toovercome many of the deficiencies of a vague or disorganized speaker. On the other hand, itwont matter how eloquent or cogent a speaker is if the listener isnt paying attention.The listener arguably bears more responsibility than the speaker for the quality ofcommunication.Related topics:
Mindfulness in a nutshell -take a sideways glance at whats hidden in plain viewFrom a listeners perspective -communicate more effectively by helping your audience listen more effectivelyMindful listening -overcome barriers to effective listening through mindful awarenessTechnology is often seen as the driver of improved communications. In terms of messagetransfer, technology certainly does play an essential role. However, communications is muchmore than just transferring messages. To truly communicate means to learn something about theinterior of another persons mind.Much has been said about the emergence of a "global mind" through technology. Of course,weve noticed that technology, in itself, creates noise and discord as much as it melds minds.A deeper commitment to better listening is essential in order for technology to fulfill its promiseof bringing the world together in real terms.We can make a difference in the world by learning to listen better and by telling others aboutbetter listening. But only if they listen.Michael Webb, March, 2006[ home ]
ABRAHAM MASLOW1908-1970Dr. C. George BoereeBiographyAbraham Harold Maslow was born April 1, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the first ofseven children born to his parents, who themselves were uneducated Jewish immigrants fromRussia. His parents, hoping for the best for their children in the new world, pushed him hard foracademic success. Not surprisingly, he became very lonely as a boy, and found his refuge inbooks.To satisfy his parents, he first studied law at the City College of New York (CCNY). After threesemesters, he transferred to Cornell, and then back to CCNY. He married Bertha Goodman, hisfirst cousin, against his parents wishes. Abe and Bertha went on to have two daughters.He and Bertha moved to Wisconsin so that he could attend the University of Wisconsin. Here,he became interested in psychology, and his school work began toimprove dramatically. He spent time there working with Harry Harlow,who is famous for his experiments with baby rhesus monkeys andattachment behavior.He received his BA in 1930, his MA in 1931, and his PhD in 1934, allin psychology, all from the University of Wisconsin. A year aftergraduation, he returned to New York to work with E. L. Thorndike atColumbia, where Maslow became interested in research on humansexuality.He began teaching full time at Brooklyn College. During this period ofhis life, he came into contact with the many European intellectuals thatwere immigrating to the US, and Brooklyn in particular, at that time --people like Adler, Fromm, Horney, as well as several Gestalt and Freudian psychologists.Maslow served as the chair of the psychology department at Brandeis from 1951 to 1969. Whilethere he met Kurt Goldstein, who had originated the idea of self-actualization in his famousbook, The Organism (1934). It was also here that he began his crusade for a humanisticpsychology -- something ultimately much more important to him than his own theorizing.He spend his final years in semi-retirement in California, until, on June 8 1970, he died of a heartattack after years of ill health.
TheoryOne of the many interesting things Maslow noticed while he worked with monkeys early in hiscareer, was that some needs take precedence over others. For example, if you are hungry andthirsty, you will tend to try to take care of the thirst first. After all, you can do without food forweeks, but you can only do without water for a couple of days! Thirst is a “stronger” need thanhunger. Likewise, if you are very very thirsty, but someone has put a choke hold on you and youcan’t breath, which is more important? The need to breathe, of course. On the other hand, sex isless powerful than any of these. Let’s face it, you won’t die if you don’t get it!Maslow took this idea and created his now famous hierarchy of needs. Beyond the details of air,water, food, and sex, he laid out five broader layers: the physiological needs, the needs forsafety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need toactualize the self, in that order.1. The physiological needs. These include the needs we have for oxygen, water, protein, salt,sugar, calcium, and other minerals and vitamins. They also include the need to maintain a pHbalance (getting too acidic or base will kill you) and temperature (98.6 or near to it). Also,there’s the needs to be active, to rest, to sleep, to get rid of wastes (CO2, sweat, urine, andfeces), to avoid pain, and to have sex. Quite a collection!Maslow believed, and research supports him, that these are in fact individual needs, and that alack of, say, vitamin C, will lead to a very specific hunger for things which have in the pastprovided that vitamin C -- e.g. orange juice. I guess the cravings that some pregnant womenhave, and the way in which babies eat the most foul tasting baby food, support the ideaanecdotally.2. The safety and security needs. When the physiological needs are largely taken care of, thissecond layer of needs comes into play. You will become increasingly interested in finding safecircumstances, stability, protection. You might develop a need for structure, for order, somelimits.
Looking at it negatively, you become concerned, not with needs like hunger and thirst, but withyour fears and anxieties. In the ordinary American adult, this set of needs manifest themselves inthe form of our urges to have a home in a safe neighborhood, a little job security and a nest egg,a good retirement plan and a bit of insurance, and so on.3. The love and belonging needs. When physiological needs and safety needs are, by andlarge, taken care of, a third layer starts to show up. You begin to feel the need for friends, asweetheart, children, affectionate relationships in general, even a sense of community. Lookedat negatively, you become increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.In our day-to-day life, we exhibit these needs in our desires to marry, have a family, be a part ofa community, a member of a church, a brother in the fraternity, a part of a gang or a bowlingclub. It is also a part of what we look for in a career.4. The esteem needs. Next, we begin to look for a little self-esteem. Maslow noted twoversions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for therespect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation,dignity, even dominance. The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including suchfeelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom. Notethat this is the “higher” form because, unlike the respect of others, once you have self-respect,it’s a lot harder to lose!The negative version of these needs is low self-esteem and inferiority complexes. Maslow feltthat Adler was really onto something when he proposed that these were at the roots of many, ifnot most, of our psychological problems. In modern countries, most of us have what we need inregard to our physiological and safety needs. We, more often than not, have quite a bit of loveand belonging, too. It’s a little respect that often seems so very hard to get!All of the preceding four levels he calls deficit needs, or D-needs. If you don’t have enough ofsomething -- i.e. you have a deficit -- you feel the need. But if you get all you need, you feelnothing at all! In other words, they cease to be motivating. As the old blues song goes, “youdon’t miss your water till your well runs dry!”He also talks about these levels in terms of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the principle by whichyour furnace thermostat operates: When it gets too cold, it switches the heat on; When it gets
too hot, it switches the heat off. In the same way, your body, when it lacks a certain substance,develops a hunger for it; When it gets enough of it, then the hunger stops. Maslow simplyextends the homeostatic principle to needs, such as safety, belonging, and esteem, that we don’tordinarily think of in these terms.Maslow sees all these needs as essentially survival needs. Even love and esteem are needed forthe maintenance of health. He says we all have these needs built in to us genetically, likeinstincts. In fact, he calls them instinctoid -- instinct-like -- needs.In terms of overall development, we move through these levels a bit like stages. As newborns,our focus (if not our entire set of needs) is on the physiological. Soon, we begin to recognizethat we need to be safe. Soon after that, we crave attention and affection. A bit later, we lookfor self-esteem. Mind you, this is in the first couple of years!Under stressful conditions, or when survival is threatened, we can “regress” to a lower needlevel. When you great career falls flat, you might seek out a little attention. When your familyups and leaves you, it seems that love is again all you ever wanted. When you face chaptereleven after a long and happy life, you suddenly can’t think of anything except money.These things can occur on a society-wide basis as well: When society suddenly flounders,people start clamoring for a strong leader to take over and make things right. When the bombsstart falling, they look for safety. When the food stops coming into the stores, their needsbecome even more basic.Maslow suggested that we can ask people for their “philosophy of the future” -- what wouldtheir ideal life or world be like -- and get significant information as to what needs they do or donot have covered.If you have significant problems along your development -- a period of extreme insecurity orhunger as a child, or the loss of a family member through death or divorce, or significant neglector abuse -- you may “fixate” on that set of needs for the rest of your life.This is Maslow’s understanding of neurosis. Perhaps you went through a war as a kid. Now youhave everything your heart needs -- yet you still find yourself obsessing over having enoughmoney and keeping the pantry well-stocked. Or perhaps your parents divorced when you were
young. Now you have a wonderful spouse -- yet you get insanely jealous or worry constantlythat they are going to leave you because you are not “good enough” for them. You get thepicture.Self-actualizationThe last level is a bit different. Maslow has used a variety of terms to refer to this level: He hascalled it growth motivation (in contrast to deficit motivation), being needs (or B-needs, incontrast to D-needs), and self-actualization.These are needs that do not involve balance or homeostasis. Once engaged, they continue to befelt. In fact, they are likely to become stronger as we “feed” them! They involve the continuousdesire to fulfill potentials, to “be all that you can be.” They are a matter of becoming the mostcomplete, the fullest, “you” -- hence the term, self-actualization.Now, in keeping with his theory up to this point, if you want to be truly self-actualizing, youneed to have your lower needs taken care of, at least to a considerable extent. This makes sense:If you are hungry, you are scrambling to get food; If you are unsafe, you have to becontinuously on guard; If you are isolated and unloved, you have to satisfy that need; If youhave a low sense of self-esteem, you have to be defensive or compensate. When lower needs areunmet, you can’t fully devote yourself to fulfilling your potentials.It isn’t surprising, then, the world being as difficult as it is, that only a small percentage of theworld’s population is truly, predominantly, self-actualizing. Maslow at one point suggested onlyabout two percent!The question becomes, of course, what exactly does Maslow mean by self-actualization. Toanswer that, we need to look at the kind of people he called self-actualizers. Fortunately, he didthis for us, using a qualitative method called biographical analysis.He began by picking out a group of people, some historical figures, some people he knew, whomhe felt clearly met the standard of self-actualization. Included in this august group wereAbraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, WilliamJames, Albert Schweitzer, Benedict Spinoza, and Alduous Huxley, plus 12 unnamed people whowere alive at the time Maslow did his research. He then looked at their biographies, writings, theacts and words of those he knew personally, and so on. From these sources, he developed a listof qualities that seemed characteristic of these people, as opposed to the great mass of us.These people were reality-centered, which means they could differentiate what is fake anddishonest from what is real and genuine. They were problem-centered, meaning they treatedlife’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at orsurrendered to. And they had a different perception of means and ends. They felt that theends don’t necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that themeans -- the journey -- was often more important than the ends.
The self-actualizers also had a different way of relating to others. First, they enjoyed solitude,and were comfortable being alone. And they enjoyed deeper personal relations with a fewclose friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many people.They enjoyed autonomy, a relative independence from physical and social needs. And theyresisted enculturation, that is, they were not susceptible to social pressure to be "well adjusted"or to "fit in" -- they were, in fact, nonconformists in the best sense.They had an unhostile sense of humor -- preferring to joke at their own expense, or at thehuman condition, and never directing their humor at others. They had a quality he calledacceptance of self and others, by which he meant that these people would be more likely to takeyou as you are than try to change you into what they thought you should be. This sameacceptance applied to their attitudes towards themselves: If some quality of theirs wasn’tharmful, they let it be, even enjoying it as a personal quirk. On the other hand, they were oftenstrongly motivated to change negative qualities in themselves that could be changed. Along withthis comes spontaneity and simplicity: They preferred being themselves rather than beingpretentious or artificial. In fact, for all their nonconformity, he found that they tended to beconventional on the surface, just where less self-actualizing nonconformists tend to be the mostdramatic.Further, they had a sense of humility and respect towards others -- something Maslow alsocalled democratic values -- meaning that they were open to ethnic and individual variety, eventreasuring it. They had a quality Maslow called human kinship or Gemeinschaftsgefühl-- socialinterest, compassion, humanity. And this was accompanied by a strongethics, which wasspiritual but seldom conventionally religious in nature.And these people had a certain freshness of appreciation, an ability to see things, even ordinarythings, with wonder. Along with this comes their ability to be creative, inventive, and original.And, finally, these people tended to have more peak experiences than the average person. Apeak experience is one that takes you out of yourself, that makes you feel very tiny, or verylarge, to some extent one with life or nature or God. It gives you a feeling of being a part of theinfinite and the eternal. These experiences tend to leave their mark on a person, change them forthe better, and many people actively seek them out. They are also called mystical experiences,and are an important part of many religious and philosophical traditions.Maslow doesn’t think that self-actualizers are perfect, of course. There were several flaws orimperfections he discovered along the way as well: First, they often suffered considerableanxiety and guilt -- but realistic anxiety and guilt, rather than misplaced or neurotic versions.Some of them were absentminded and overly kind. And finally, some of them had unexpectedmoments of ruthlessness, surgical coldness, and loss of humor.Two other points he makes about these self-actualizers: Their values were "natural" and seemedto flow effortlessly from their personalities. And they appeared to transcend many of thedichotomies others accept as being undeniable, such as the differences between the spiritual andthe physical, the selfish and the unselfish, and the masculine and the feminine.
Metaneeds and metapathologiesAnother way in which Maslow approach the problem of what is self-actualization is to talk aboutthe special, driving needs (B-needs, of course) of the self-actualizers. They need the following intheir lives in order to be happy:Truth, rather than dishonesty.Goodness, rather than evil.Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or forced choices.Aliveness, not deadness or the mechanization of life.Uniqueness, not bland uniformity.Perfection and necessity, not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.Completion, rather than incompleteness.Justice and order, not injustice and lawlessness.Simplicity, not unnecessary complexity.Richness, not environmental impoverishment.Effortlessness, not strain.Playfulness, not grim, humorless, drudgery.Self-sufficiency, not dependency.Meaningfulness, rather than senselessness.At first glance, you might think that everyone obviously needs these. But think: If you areliving through an economic depression or a war, or are living in a ghetto or in rural poverty, doyou worry about these issues, or do you worry about getting enough to eat and a roof over yourhead? In fact, Maslow believes that much of the what is wrong with the world comes down tothe fact that very few people really are interested in these values -- not because they are badpeople, but because they haven’t even had their basic needs taken care of!When a self-actualizer doesn’t get these needs fulfilled, they respond with metapathologies -- alist of problems as long as the list of metaneeds! Let me summarize it by saying that, whenforced to live without these values, the self-actualizer develops depression, despair,disgust,alienation, and a degree of cynicism.Maslow hoped that his efforts at describing the self-actualizing person would eventually lead to a“periodic table” of the kinds of qualities, problems, pathologies, and even solutions characteristicof higher levels of human potential. Over time, he devoted increasing attention, not to his owntheory, but to humanistic psychology and the human potentials movement.Toward the end of his life, he inaugurated what he called the fourth force in psychology:Freudian and other “depth” psychologies constituted the first force; Behaviorism was the secondforce; His own humanism, including the European existentialists, were the third force. Thefourth force was the transpersonal psychologies which, taking their cue from Easternphilosophies, investigated such things as meditation, higher levels of consciousness, and evenparapsychological phenomena. Perhaps the best known transpersonalist today is Ken Wilber,author of such books as The Atman Project and The History of Everything.
DiscussionMaslow has been a very inspirational figure in personality theories. In the 1960’s in particular,people were tired of the reductionistic, mechanistic messages of the behaviorists andphysiological psychologists. They were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives, even ahigher, more mystical meaning. Maslow was one of the pioneers in that movement to bring thehuman being back into psychology, and the person back into personality!At approximately the same time, another movement was getting underway, one inspired by someof the very things that turned Maslow off: computers and information processing, as well asvery rationalistic theories such as Piaget’s cognitive development theory and Noam Chomsky’slinguistics. This, of course, became the cognitive movement in psychology. As the heyday ofhumanism appeared to lead to little more than drug abuse, astrology, andself indulgence,cognitivism provided the scientific ground students of psychology were yearning for.But the message should not be lost: Psychology is, first and foremost, about people, real peoplein real lives, and not about computer models, statistical analyses, rat behavior, test scores, andlaboratories.Some criticismThe “big picture” aside, there are a few criticisms we might direct at Maslow’s theory itself. Themost common criticism concerns his methodology: Picking a small number of people that hehimself declared self-actualizing, then reading about them or talking with them, and coming toconclusions about what self-actualization is in the first place does not sound like good science tomany people.In his defense, I should point out that he understood this, and thought of his work as simplypointing the way. He hoped that others would take up the cause and complete what he hadbegun in a more rigorous fashion. It is a curiosity that Maslow, the “father” of Americanhumanism, began his career as a behaviorist with a strong physiological bent. He did indeedbelieve in science, and often grounded his ideas in biology. He only meant to broadenpsychology to include the best in us, as well as the pathological!Another criticism, a little harder to respond to, is that Maslow placed such constraints on self-actualization. First, Kurt Goldstein and Carl Rogers used the phrase to refer to what every livingcreature does: To try to grow, to become more, to fulfill its biological destiny. Maslow limits itto something only two percent of the human species achieves. And while Rogers felt that babieswere the best examples of human self-actualization, Maslow saw it as something achieved onlyrarely by the young.Another point is that he asks that we pretty much take care of our lower needs before self-actualization comes to the forefront. And yet we can find many examples of people whoexhibited at very least aspects of self-actualization who were far from having their lower needs
taken care of. Many of our best artists and authors, for example, suffered from poverty, badupbringing, neuroses, and depression. Some could even be called psychotic! If you think aboutGalileo, who prayed for ideas that would sell, or Rembrandt, who could barely keep food on thetable, or Toulouse Lautrec, whose body tormented him, or van Gogh, who, besides poor, wasn’tquite right in the head, if you know what I mean... Weren’t these people engaged in some formof self-actualization? The idea of artists and poets and philosophers (and psychologists!) beingstrange is so common because it has so much truth to it!We also have the example of a number of people who were creative in some fashion even whilein concentration camps. Trachtenberg, for example, developed a new way of doing arithmetic ina camp. Viktor Frankl developed his approach to therapy while in a camp. There are many moreexamples.And there are examples of people who were creative when unknown, became successful only tostop being creative. Ernest Hemingway, if I’m not mistaken, is an example. Perhaps all theseexamples are exceptions, and the hierarchy of needs stands up well to the general trend. But theexceptions certainly do put some doubt into our minds.I would like to suggest a variation on Maslows theory that might help. If we take the idea ofactualization as Goldstein and Rogers use it, i.e. as the "life force" that drives all creatures, wecan also acknowledge that there are various things that interfere with the full effectiveness of thatlife force. If we are deprived of our basic physical needs, if we are living under threateningcircumstances, if we are isolated from others, or if we have no confidence in our abilities, wemay continue to survive, but it will not be as fulfilling a live as it could be. We will not be fullyactualizing our potentials! We could even understand that there might be people that actualizedespite deprivation! If we take the deficit needs as subtracting from actualization, and if we talkabout full self-actualization rather than self-actualization as a separate category of need,Maslows theory comes into line with other theories, and the exceptional people who succeed inthe face of adversity can be seen as heroic rather than freakish abberations.I received the following email from Gareth Costello of Dublin, Ireland, which balances mysomewhat negative review of Maslow:One mild criticism I would have is of your concluding assessment, where you appeal for abroader view of self-actualisation that could include subjects such as van Gogh and other hard-at-heel intellectual/creative giants. This appears to be based on a view that people like van Gogh,etc. were, by virtue of their enormous creativity, at least partly self-actualised.I favour Maslows more narrow definition of self-actualisation and would not agree that self-actualisation equates with supreme self-expression. I suspect that self-actualisation is, often, ademotivating factor where artistic creativity is concerned, and that artists such as van Goghthrived (artistically, if not in other respects) specifically in the absence of circumstancesconducive to self-actualisation. Even financially successful artists (e.g. Stravinsky, who was
famously good at looking after his financial affairs, as well as affairs of other kinds) do exhibitsome of the non-self-actualised motivators that you describe so well.Self-actualisation implies an outwardness and openness that contrasts with the introspection thatcan be a pre-requisite for great artistic self-expression. Where scientists can look out at the worldaround them to find something of profound or universal significance, great artists usually lookinside themselves to find something of personal significance - the universality of their work isimportant but secondary. Its interesting that Maslow seems to have concentrated on peopleconcerned with the big-picture when defining self-actualisation. In Einstein, he selected ascientist who was striving for a theory of the entire physical universe. The philosophers andpoliticians he analysed were concerned with issues of great relevance to humanity.This is not to belittle the value or importance of the small-picture - society needs splitters aswell as lumpers. But while self-actualisation may be synonymous with psychological balanceand health, it does not necessarily lead to professional or creative brilliance in all fields. In someinstances, it may remove the driving force that leads people to excel -- art being the classicexample. So I dont agree that the scope of self-actualisation should be extended to includepeople who may well have been brilliant, but who were also quite possibly damaged, unroundedor unhappy human beings.If I had the opportunity to chose between brilliance (alone) or self-actualisation (alone) for mychildren, I would go for the latter!Gareth makes some very good points!BibliographyMaslow’s books are easy to read and full of interesting ideas. The best known are Toward aPsychology of Being (1968), Motivation and Personality (first edition, 1954, and secondedition, 1970), and The Further Reaches of Human Nature (1971). Finally, there are manyarticles by Maslow, especially in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, which he cofounded.For more information on-line, go to http://www.nidusnet.org.Copyright 1998, 2006 by C. George BoereeClick here to read Belorussian translation!
ALBERT BANDURA1925 - presentDr. C. George BoereeBiographyAlbert Bandura was born December 4, 1925, in the small town of Mundare in northern Alberta,Canada. He was educated in a small elementary school and high school in one, with minimalresources, yet a remarkable success rate. After high school, he worked for one summer fillingholes on the Alaska Highway in the Yukon.He received his bachelors degree in Psychology from the University ofBritish Columbia in 1949. He went on to the University of Iowa, wherehe received his Ph.D. in 1952. It was there that he came under theinfluence of the behaviorist tradition and learning theory.While at Iowa, he met Virginia Varns, an instructor in the nursingschool. They married and later had two daughters. After graduating, hetook a postdoctoral position at the Wichita Guidance Center in Wichita,Kansas.In 1953, he started teaching at Stanford University. While there, hecollaborated with his first graduate student, Richard Walters, resulting intheir first book, Adolescent Aggression, in 1959.Bandura was president of the APA in 1973, and received the APA’s Award for DistinguishedScientific Contributions in 1980. He continues to work at Stanford to this day.TheoryBehaviorism, with its emphasis on experimental methods, focuses on variables we can observe,measure, and manipulate, and avoids whatever is subjective, internal, and unavailable -- i.e.mental. In the experimental method, the standard procedure is to manipulate one variable, andthen measure its effects on another. All this boils down to a theory of personality that says thatone’s environment causes one’s behavior.Bandura found this a bit too simplistic for the phenomena he was observing -- aggression inadolescents -- and so decided to add a little something to the formula: He suggested thatenvironment causes behavior, true; but behavior causes environment as well. He labeled thisconcept reciprocal determinism: The world and a person’s behavior cause each other.
Later, he went a step further. He began to look at personality as an interaction among three“things:” the environment, behavior, and the person’s psychological processes. Thesepsychological processes consist of our ability to entertain images in our minds, and language. Atthe point where he introduces imagery, in particular, he ceases to be a strict behaviorist, andbegins to join the ranks of the cognitivists. In fact, he is often considered a “father” of thecognitivist movement!Adding imagery and language to the mix allows Bandura to theorize much more effectively thansomeone like, say, B. F. Skinner, about two things that many people would consider the “strongsuit” of the human species: observational learning (modeling) and self-regulation.Observational learning, or modelingOf the hundreds of studies Bandura was responsible for, one group stands out above the others --the bobo doll studies. He made of film of one of his students, a young woman, essentiallybeating up a bobo doll. In case you don’t know, a bobo doll is an inflatable, egg-shape ballooncreature with a weight in the bottom that makes it bob back up when you knock him down.Nowadays, it might have Darth Vader painted on it, but back then it was simply “Bobo” theclown.The woman punched the clown, shouting “sockeroo!” She kicked it, sat on it, hit with a littlehammer, and so on, shouting various aggressive phrases. Bandura showed his film to groups ofkindergartners who, as you might predict, liked it a lot. They then were let out to play. In theplay room, of course, were several observers with pens and clipboards in hand, a brand new bobodoll, and a few little hammers.And you might predict as well what the observers recorded: A lot of little kids beating thedaylights out of the bobo doll. They punched it and shouted “sockeroo,” kicked it, sat on it, hit itwith the little hammers, and so on. In other words, they imitated the young lady in the film, andquite precisely at that.This might seem like a real nothing of an experiment at first, but consider: These childrenchanged their behavior without first being rewarded for approximations to that behavior! Andwhile that may not seem extraordinary to the average parent, teacher, or casual observer ofchildren, it didn’t fit so well with standard behavioristic learning theory. He called thephenomenon observational learning or modeling, and his theory is usually called social learningtheory.Bandura did a large number of variations on the study: The model was rewarded or punished ina variety of ways, the kids were rewarded for their imitations, the model was changed to be lessattractive or less prestigious, and so on. Responding to criticism that bobo dolls were supposedto be hit, he even did a film of the young woman beating up a live clown. When the childrenwent into the other room, what should they find there but -- the live clown! They proceeded topunch him, kick him, hit him with little hammers, and so on.
All these variations allowed Bandura to establish that there were certain steps involved in themodeling process:1. Attention. If you are going to learn anything, you have to be paying attention. Likewise,anything that puts a damper on attention is going to decrease learning, including observationallearning. If, for example, you are sleepy, groggy, drugged, sick, nervous, or “hyper,” you willlearn less well. Likewise, if you are being distracted by competing stimuli.Some of the things that influence attention involve characteristics of the model. If the model iscolorful and dramatic, for example, we pay more attention. If the model is attractive, orprestigious, or appears to be particularly competent, you will pay more attention. And if themodel seems more like yourself, you pay more attention. These kinds of variables directedBandura towards an examination of television and its effects on kids!2. Retention. Second, you must be able to retain -- remember -- what you have paid attentionto. This is where imagery and language come in: we store what we have seen the model doingin the form of mental images or verbal descriptions. When so stored, you can later “bring up”the image or description, so that you can reproduce it with your own behavior.3. Reproduction. At this point, you’re just sitting there daydreaming. You have to translate theimages or descriptions into actual behavior. So you have to have the ability to reproduce thebehavior in the first place. I can watch Olympic ice skaters all day long, yet not be able toreproduce their jumps, because I can’t ice skate at all! On the other hand, if I could skate, myperformance would in fact improve if I watch skaters who are better than I am.Another important tidbit about reproduction is that our ability to imitate improves with practiceat the behaviors involved. And one more tidbit: Our abilities improve even when we justimagine ourselves performing! Many athletes, for example, imagine their performance in theirmind’s eye prior to actually performing.4. Motivation. And yet, with all this, you’re still not going to do anything unless you aremotivated to imitate, i.e. until you have some reason for doing it. Bandura mentions a number ofmotives:a. past reinforcement, ala traditional behaviorism.b. promised reinforcements (incentives) that we can imagine.c. vicarious reinforcement -- seeing and recalling the model being reinforced.Notice that these are, traditionally, considered to be the things that “cause” learning. Bandura issaying that they don’t so much cause learning as cause us to demonstrate what we have learned.That is, he sees them as motives.Of course, the negative motivations are there as well, giving you reasons not to imitate someone:
d. past punishment.e. promised punishment (threats).d. vicarious punishment.Like most traditional behaviorists, Bandura says that punishment in whatever form does notwork as well as reinforcement and, in fact, has a tendency to “backfire” on us.Self-regulationSelf-regulation -- controlling our own behavior -- is the other “workhorse” of humanpersonality. Here Bandura suggests three steps:1. Self-observation. We look at ourselves, our behavior, and keep tabs on it.2. Judgment. We compare what we see with a standard. For example, we can compare ourperformance with traditional standards, such as “rules of etiquette.” Or we can create arbitraryones, like “I’ll read a book a week.” Or we can compete with others, or with ourselves.3. Self-response. If you did well in comparison with your standard, you give yourselfrewarding self-responses. If you did poorly, you give yourself punishing self-responses. Theseself-responses can range from the obvious (treating yourself to a sundae or working late) to themore covert (feelings of pride or shame).A very important concept in psychology that can be understood well with self-regulation is self-concept (better known as self-esteem). If, over the years, you find yourself meeting yourstandards and life loaded with self-praise and self-reward, you will have a pleasant self-concept(high self-esteem). If, on the other hand, you find yourself forever failing to meet your standardsand punishing yourself, you will have a poor self-concept (low self-esteem).Recall that behaviorists generally view reinforcement as effective, and punishment as fraughtwith problems. The same goes for self-punishment. Bandura sees three likely results ofexcessive self-punishment:a. compensation -- a superiority complex, for example, and delusions of grandeur.b. inactivity -- apathy, boredom, depression.c. escape -- drugs and alcohol, television fantasies, or even the ultimate escape, suicide.These have some resemblance to the unhealthy personalities Adler and Horney talk about: anaggressive type, a compliant type, and an avoidant type respectively.Bandura’s recommendations to those who suffer from poor self-concepts come straight from thethree steps of self-regulation:1. Regarding self-observation -- know thyself! Make sure you have an accurate picture ofyour behavior.
2. Regarding standards -- make sure your standards aren’t set too high. Don’t set yourself upfor failure! Standards that are too low, on the other hand, are meaningless.3. Regarding self-response -- use self-rewards, not self-punishments. Celebrate your victories,don’t dwell on your failures.TherapySelf-control therapyThe ideas behind self-regulation have been incorporated into a therapy technique called self-control therapy. It has been quite successful with relatively simple problems of habit, such assmoking, overeating, and study habits.1. Behavioral charts. Self-observation requires that you keep close tabs on your behavior, bothbefore you begin changes and after. This can involve something as simple as counting howmany cigarettes you smoke in a day to complex behavioral diaries. With the diary approach,you keep track of the details, the when and where of your habit. This lets you get a grip on whatkinds of cues are associated with the habit: Do you smoke more after meals, with coffee, withcertain friends, in certain locations...?2. Environmental planning. Taking your lead from your behavioral charts and diaries, you canbegin to alter your environment. For example, you can remove or avoid some of those cues thatlead to your bad behaviors: Put away the ashtrays, drink tea instead of coffee, divorce thatsmoking partner.... You can find the time and place best suited for the good alternativebehaviors: When and where do you find you study best? And so on.3. Self-contracts. Finally, you arrange to reward yourself when you adhere to your plan, andpossibly punish yourself when you do not. These contracts should be written down andwitnessed (by your therapist, for example), and the details should be spelled out very explicitly:“I will go out to dinner on Saturday night if I smoke fewer cigarettes this week than last week. Iwill do paperwork instead if I do not.”You may involve other people and have them control your rewards and punishments, if youaren’t strict enough with yourself. Beware, however: This can be murder on your relationships,as you bite their heads off for trying to do what you told them to do!Modeling therapyThe therapy Bandura is most famous for, however, is modeling therapy. The theory is that, ifyou can get someone with a psychological disorder to observe someone dealing with the sameissues in a more productive fashion, the first person will learn by modeling the second.
Bandura’s original research on this involved herpephobics -- people with a neurotic fear ofsnakes. The client would be lead to a window looking in on a lab room. In that room is nothingbut a chair, a table, a cage on the table with a locked latch, and a snake clearly visible in thecage. The client then watches another person -- an actor -- go through a slow and painfulapproach to the snake. He acts terrified at first, but shakes himself out of it, tells himself to relaxand breathe normally and take one step at a time towards the snake. He may stop in the middle,retreat in panic, and start all over. Ultimately, he gets to the point where he opens the cage,removes the snake, sits down on the chair, and drapes it over his neck, all the while givinghimself calming instructions.After the client has seen all this (no doubt with his mouth hanging open the whole time), he isinvited to try it himself. Mind you, he knows that the other person is an actor -- there is nodeception involved here, only modeling! And yet, many clients -- lifelong phobics -- can gothrough the entire routine first time around, even after only one viewing of the actor! This is apowerful therapy.One drawback to the therapy is that it isn’t easy to get the rooms, the snakes, the actors, etc.,together. So Bandura and his students have tested versions of the therapy using recordings ofactors and even just imagining the process under the therapist’s direction. These methods worknearly as well.DiscussionAlbert Bandura has had an enormous impact on personality theory and therapy. Hisstraightforward, behaviorist-like style makes good sense to most people. His action-oriented,problem-solving approach likewise appeals to those who want to get things done, rather thanphilosophize about ids, archetypes, actualization, freedom, and all the many other mentalisticconstructs personologists tend to dwell on.Among academic psychologists, research is crucial, and behaviorism has been the preferredapproach. Since the late 1960’s, behaviorism has given way to the “cognitive revolution,” ofwhich Bandura is considered a part. Cognitive psychology retains the experimentally-orientedflavor of behaviorism, without artificially restraining the researcher to external behaviors, whenthe mental life of clients and subjects is so obviously important.This is a powerful movement, and the contributors include some of the most important people inpsychology today: Julian Rotter, Walter Mischel, Michael Mahoney, and David Meichenbaumspring to my mind. Also involved are such theorists of therapy as Aaron Beck (cognitivetherapy) and Albert Ellis (rational emotive therapy). The followers of George Kelly also findthemselves in this camp. And the many people working on personality trait research -- such asBuss and Plomin (temperament theory) and McCrae and Costa (five factor theory) -- areessentially “cognitive behaviorists” like Bandura.