What Makes Someone a Bad Listener?
To be a good listener requires conscious effort and practice. Certain habits, which may be unconscious or thought to be helpful, can hinder your ability to retain information and engage with others. Below are some social behaviors that indicate poor listening skills:
Failure to pay attention: It is easy to become distracted by other things, sometimes under the guise of multitasking, while having a conversation. However, this diverts your attention from what the other person is saying. The more distractions there are, such as cell phones or nearby televisions, the less likely you are to actively listen to the speaker.
Interjecting with personal anecdotes: Offering your own experiences to sympathize or relate to the speaker may seem helpful. However, this habit can make the speaker feel like you’re not fully respecting their story and simply want to shift the attention to yourself.
Judging the speaker: Some people tune out or become defensive if someone shares an opinion they disagree with. The listener may shut down and refuse to relate, which prevents a potentially meaningful conversation.
Failure to ask questions: Not asking follow-up questions about the speaker’s story can indicate poor listening skills. Asking questions demonstrates engagement and curiosity and makes the other person feel heard.
Interrupting the speaker: Good listeners rarely cut someone else off to comment with their own opinion. Doing so can send a message that your thoughts are more important than theirs. Silence or momentary pauses are not always an opportunity to insert your own story, rebuttal, or belief.
Waiting to talk: Formulating a response while the speaker is talking results in distracted listening. If you appear more interested in telling your own story than listening, it can damage your personal and professional relationships. The other person may not feel heard, making them less inclined to have conversations with you in the future.
How to Be a Better Listener
- Practice active listening. It’s important to fully concentrate on the person who is speaking. An active listener should be mentally and physically focused on their communication partner and show interest in the conversation. This involves using both verbal and nonverbal communication skills such as maintaining eye contact, maintaining an open body position, and being still. It’s important not to interrupt or interject, but rather to allow the person to speak and wait for a natural opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
- Be supportive. To effectively support someone who needs to talk, it’s important to practice active listening. This means resisting the urge to interject your own thoughts or opinions, and instead focusing on the speaker’s words. Avoid diminishing their feelings or providing unsolicited advice.
- Keep an open mind. Maintain an open mind, even if the conversation is difficult. Repeat key details back to the speaker to show that you’re listening and ask clarifying questions to better understand what they’re saying. Wait until they’re finished speaking before jumping in with your own comments or questions.
- Mentally note key details. Make a mental note of important details in the conversation. To show that you are actively listening, repeat the last few words of the speaker. Remember the parts of the conversation that captured your attention so you can ask relevant follow-up questions. If you come across any unclear details, take note of them and ask for clarification. It’s essential to stay engaged and focused on the speaker to avoid appearing disinterested or insincere. Wait until they finish speaking before adding any comments or asking open-ended questions.
- Ask questions. Asking questions can be a great way to show that you’re engaged in the conversation and encourage the speaker to share more. Be mindful of your body language and emotional reactions, using positive movements and facial expressions to demonstrate that you’re fully present in the moment.
- Perform active listening exercises. Practicing active listening exercises, like writing summaries after conversations, can help hone your skills and become a better listener overall. Remember, empathy takes patience and understanding, so focus on creating a safe and supportive environment for the speaker to share.
- Use positive body language. Employ positive body language by being aware of your physical cues and emotional reactions when someone is speaking to you. Avoid passive listening by avoiding actions like turning away from the person, avoiding eye contact, or fidgeting. Instead, face the person, use affirmative gestures such as nodding and leaning in to show that you are fully engaged in the conversation. Also, be conscious of your facial expressions and other nonverbal behaviors, as they can communicate judgment or disinterest even if you don’t speak a word.