8 Bad Listening Habits Everyone Should Break

In a previous post, I discussed how to Improve Your Listening in Five Easy Steps. However, sometimes you have to start with breaking some bad listening habits.

Do any of these sound like you?


1. Interrupting- 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 the advice in step 1 above.


not_listening3. Pseudolistening- You’re smiling and giving the other person all the nonverbal signals that you’re paying attention but your brain is in Bermuda.

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. Apathetic/Insensitive listening- When you listen to words and don’t also listen to the speaker’s nonverbals, you’re probably being an insensitive listener.

You hear, “My cat fluffy died,” and disregard the devastated look on the speaker’s face, the tears, the obvious emotion in his or her voice, and reply, “Why don’t you just get another cat?,” or “Everyone’s gotta go sometime!”


5. Defensive listening- Most 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. Allowing distractions- 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 those other task are so important, tell the other person so, and ask him or her if you can talk about their issue later.


7. Using poor listening body language- Listening involves more than just your ears. If a huge percentage of communication comes from a person’s body language, you’ve got to “listen” to that with your eyes. Eye contact is a critical component of listening to others.

Additionally, the nonverbal messages you send to the speaker can tell him or her that you’re interested and engaged, or bored and self-absorbed. Here are some additional nonverbal tips for good listeners:

- Look at the speaker

- Orient your body toward the speaker

- Lean in to the speaker to show interest/involvement

- Be still. Not like a statue, but don’t fidget, rock in your chair, etc.

- “React” to what you’re hearing. Your facial expression and body movements should show the speaker you “get it.” If the speaker says, “The building is on fire,” or, “I’m really concerned about this,” there should be some reaction on your part- not a blank stare or plastered-on smile.


8. Not putting on the “right” listening ears- There are many different types of listening, from appreciative listening, which is what you do when you listen to music, to critical listening, which is the analytical/evaluative listening you should be doing when you buy a used car. You can’t do the right kind of listening if you don’t know the goal of your listening.

If in doubt, ask the speaker, “What can I do for you? Are you looking for advice, empathy, or just a sounding board?” I know it sounds crazy, but if you don’t, you’re likely to give the wrong answer. People who are looking for empathy  generally doesn’t appreciate a response that begins with, “Well, what you should have done was…” In turn, people looking for advice will walk away dissatisfied with a response such as, “Gee, I’m sorry. I guess you have an important decision to make. Good luck.”


Do you have any other bad listening habits that you’re brave enough to confess?





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