People often ask me what’s the first step to becoming a better listener. The answer? Get rid of your bad listening habits. As much as we don’t like to admit it, most of us aren’t the best of listeners and we’ve developed some bad habits over our lifetimes. As you review this list of bad habits, it will be easy for you to lie to yourself and say, “I don’t do that,” but are you sure? Are you being honest? Remember, denying you have the habit will keep you from getting rid of it!
You’re basically telling the other person that what they were trying to say is totally unimportant to you. Resist the urge. Bite your tongue if you have to and let the other person have his or her say.
2. Stage Hogging
If you dominate conversations, interrupt to take over, or constantly change the subject to talk about you and your interests, you’re a stage hog. Stage hogging can also be more subtle, coming in the form of “The Bigger Fish Syndrome.” This occurs when someone else tells a story and you just can’t let him or her have the moment. The fish you caught is bigger. The car wreck you had was worse. Your boss is more demanding.
You get the picture. How do you stop becoming a stage hog? Start by taking a genuine interest in others and REALLY listening to them. Keep your own thoughts and experiences to yourself because when you’re listening, they’re not relevant and others don’t care. When they’re speaking, all they care about is sharing their own thoughts and experiences.
Pseudolistening is basically pretending to listen. You’re smiling, nodding, saying, “uh huh,” in all the right places, but your brain is still in this morning’s meeting or thinking about what you have to do this afternoon.
If you make a commitment to listen, then you should listen. If you don’t want to or can’t listen now, then be honest and say so. I’d rather have people tell me, “Now’s not a good time, can we talk later?” than lie to me and say they’re listening when they’re not.
4. Insensitive listening
Insensitive listeners focus on facts, not feelings. They only hear factual elements others share and ignore verbal or nonverbal expressions of emotion. As a result, they’re usually totally oblivious to what others are REALLY trying to communicate and their responses show it.
When a friend comes to you with a devastated look on his face, eyes obviously red from crying, and his voice is breaking when he says, “My grandpa just passed away,” he probably won’t appreciate you saying, “Well he was really old,” or “Everyone’s gotta go sometime!” Whether the grandpa was old or not isn’t relevant. What’s important is to show your friend that you see he’s upset. A better response would be, “I can see how upset you are. I’m sorry for your loss.”
5. Defensive listening
Many people have issues to which they’re sensitive. Defensive listening occurs when someone else brings up that issue and you react in a way that is out of proportion to the person’s comment. Think about the word “room” to a teenager. A parent says, “I want to talk about your room,” and the teen immediately goes into a tirade trying to justify why the room is a mess, when in fact, the parent may have wanted to discuss repainting or redecorating. Don’t allow your sensitivity to keep you from hearing something you need or might want to hear.
6. Distracted listening
Your mouth says, “Yes I have time to talk,” but you continue to read e-mail, answer phone calls, look at your calendar, etc. If you make a commitment to a conversation, give the other party your undivided attention. Don’t complete other tasks. If your other tasks are more important than the conversation at hand, you could say,
“I want to talk with you about the report. Can we discuss it at 2 pm when I can give you my undivided attention? Right now I have to call these last three clients back to let them know their orders will be delayed.”
These are just some of the bad listening habits we might have developed, but they’re probably some of the most common ones. Give the gift of great listening to those around you by eliminating just one of these habits this week. It’s probably the most important gift you can ever give.
For more information about improving your listening and other communication skills, check out my book, Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done or my 3-minute-a-day, Communication Skills for Career Success video program. You can also check out two of my previous posts on listening: Break Down Your Listening Barriers in Five Easy Steps and The High Cost of Poor Listening.