Listen or Lose Out: A book review by Bob Morris

Listen or Lose Out: How to Avoid Miscommunication, Improve Relationships, and Get More Done Faster
Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton
AMACOM (2018)

For many people, this can be “a new and much more effective way of listening.”

Long ago I realized that there are three basic assumptions about communication that, more often than not, are simply not true:

i. The message sent has been received and considered.
2. Its intended meaning is understood.
3. Its recipient cares.

In the current Age of Information, attention is increasingly more difficult to obtain and, therefore, increasingly more valuable. Why are listening skills so important? According to Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton “good listening oft en initiates a virtuous cycle of greatly enhanced communication. Equally important, these improved ways of listening increase rapport between the listener and the speaker. We refer to this research-based listening as ‘skilled listening.'”

Scientific research has also identified “a set of widely used dysfunctional ‘listening’ habits that are likely to trigger defensiveness in the speaker, who then tends to be more guarded and to withhold useful information…The most significant outcome of this research was an integrated set of best listening practices that you’ll learn as you read this book. Although the discoveries are several decades old, they’ve not been disseminated widely.” so, for most readers, “the book will provide a new and much more effective way of listening.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of the Boltons’ coverage:

Workplace Importance of Listening (Pages 17-20)
Personal Relationships (31-40)
Trouble Sports in Communication (43-52)
Six Common Dysfunctional Missteps (54)
Common Characteristics of the Listening Missteps (54-63)
Overcome the Misstep in Stages (69-71)
Skill-Based Listening (71-76)
Closed-Ended Questions (103-104 and 108-109)
Paraphrasing (129-139)
Feelings (151-160)
Reflections (177-180)
Summary Reflections for Understanding (185-192)
Empathy (213-216)
Prison of Peace: A mini-Case Study (POP) 231-241

I commend Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton on the abundance of valuable information that they provide in this book. Their material can help to prepare almost any reader to “avoid miscommunication, improve relationships, and get more done faster” and better. However, those who send a message must make certain that it is necessary, crystal-clear, and of potential value to the recipient. Those who receive a message must then make every effort to understand its [begin italics] intended [end italics] meaning.

In Future Shock (1984) Alvin Toffler observed, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” That observation prompts me to add one other point: What the Boltons characterize as listening skills within a broader category of cognitive skills and all are needed when learning, unlearning, and relearning. Although this book m ay not have been written primarily to serve that purpose, it can still be essential to gaining the level of literacy to which Toffler refers.


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