Lillian  D. Bjorseth

Article Summary:

How to improve your communications skills by recognizing your own “filters”.

Improve Your Communication Skills By “Cleaning Your Filter”

Most of us who live in Chicago share a commonality: We or someone we live with or paid to do so changed our furnace filters several times during the past months. We did it to ensure that we breathe clean air, and dust doesn’t collect nearly as quickly on our belongings.

As a communication skills speaker, trainer and author, I ask you on a similar note: “When is the last time you changed your personal filter?” Some of us, I dare say, have so much guck in ours that we can barely hear, much less listen! Good communication occurs only when others receive our message in the manner in which we intended it to be. Responsibility rests with both parties. Let’s look at how we as “hearers” can block the process. Listening is a six-step hierarchical process: sensing, interpreting, evaluating, understanding, responding, remembering. It’s the second step where our “dust” comes into play.

To understand this step better, think of yourself as having a giant filtering system. Everything you hear passes through that system, which is made up of your needs, values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and experiences. Since each of us brings different ones to the listening process, each of us innately has different reactions to what the speaker says.

Each of us also has our own “stuff” that dirties our filters: prejudices, pre-judgments, lack of interest, envy, jealousy, anger, revenge, hatred, the need to be right and our own special “grime.” Can you see how hard it can become for anyone to get through clearly and how communication failures happen at work and at home?

To make matters worse, our filtering system is responsible for another major communication challenge: Words have no meaning. People give meaning to words. For example, the word “alcoholic” has a very different resonance for those who have lived with one. The same is true for the word “work alcoholic.” “Discrimination” has a different emotional response for women and minorities who have experienced it in the workplace. In my workshops I often ask people to list words they use in business that might be interpreted differently or be offensive to employees or customers. Most begin with hesitancy since they haven’t been asked to do this before. Once started, they reel off words quickly.

One of my participants, a software trainer, recalled how the first thing he said to his class was that today he would be used the bible of software training, i.e., they were getting the best. One of his students immediately responded with, “I know of only one Bible, and it doesn’t teach me about software.” It took him a while to recover from that initial “slap in the face.” He never used bible in that context again.

On another level, I also give participants a chance to share words others use that offend them. Take a minute and compile your lists. You have control over the first; stop using those words. You also have the right to share with others when they use words that offend you.

Awareness precedes change. Are you ready to start cleaning your filter? Follow these suggestions to help reduce conflict, improve communication and strengthen your relationships.

1. List your prejudices and face them head on.
Are they based on race, gender, religion, age, status or educational background (add your own)?

2. Form your opinion in the moment.
Don’t prejudge situations, presenters, your co-workers or parents’ or children’s reactions, a book before you have read it, the taste of food before you have eaten it (add your own).

3. Help yourself.
Read books and magazines, attend seminars, listen to CDs, watch select TV programs to help you grow personally and professionally.

4. Ask for feedback.
Have the confidence to inquire how you are perceived.

5. Stop conversations that are going down the wrong track and ask, “Why”?
Solve the challenges on the spot rather than parting confused or even angry with the other person.

Lillian D. Bjorseth, according to the The Chicago Tribune, is a “networking expert”. The Association Forum of Chicagoland calls her “the business networking authority”. She’s a speaker, trainer and author who helps entrepreneurs through Fortune 100 employees build high-value relationships by honing their business development, business networking and communication skills. For more information, visit

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