Listening is not automatic, it’s a critical skill that needs to be developed and honed. Good listeners pay attention not just to the speaker and the words they’re saying but also try to understand the underlying emotions and intentions beyond them. They try to actively participate, giving appropriate responses while making sure they’re not just listening to respond. As with all other skills, there’s always room for improvement. Here are some signs you’re a bad listener and how you can fix that.
Signs you’re a bad listener
Multitasking: when you multitask, your brain divides attention between two tasks not fully focusing on either or giving either the attention it deserves
Interrupting often: people of ten interrupt because they’re overly enthusiastic or impatient. Interrupting and completing people’s sentences, even when you’re accurate is a sign you’re a bad listener. Allow people the respect and time to finish stating their ideas.
Lack of eye contact: this may vary from culture to culture but in Western cultures and those that have been influenced by them, not having any eye contact can signify distraction or disinterest.
Not responding appropriately: good listening requires you to respond appropriately, inappropriate responses like laughter when someone is being serious is a sign you have poor listening skills. Related is asking irrelevant questions that have nothing to do with the subject matter.
Make it all about you: if you always bring every conversation back to you even when you don’t mean to, you could stand to improve your listening skills
Frequently checking the time or devices: at best this shows you’re not giving the person your full attention and at worst, is just plain disrespectful.
Preparing your response while the person is speaking: this is a natural impulse that you need to learn to tame. When someone is speaking focus on listening not diverting your attention towards mentally preparing your response.
Ignoring non-verbal cues: people don’t just communicate with words, so much of communication is non-verbal and if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss a significant chunk of what is being said,
Consistently misinterpreting: occasional misunderstanding is normal, consistently misinterpreting what someone is saying is evidence you’re a bad listener.
Judgmental behaviour: if you find yourself eager to critique and tell people how they’re wrong straight away, always finding fault, you could stand to improve your listening skills.
Other signs you’re a bad listener
- You make assumptions or jump to conclusions
- You show signs of impatience or boredom
- You dominate the conversations
- Lack of empathy or understanding
- You don’t ask questions
- You can’t wait for when it’s your turn to speak
- You don’t reassure the speaker of your interest
- You have unwelcome body language and cues, like sighing often or turning away
- You find that people frequently say to you, “I already told you about that, remember?”
What to do instead
Who among us couldn’t stand to improve their listening skills? Here are some things to do instead:
- Listen attentively without any distractions like multitasking or using your phone
- Practice active listening where you nod and ask questions and seek clarification as they speak
- Pay attention to non-verbal cues
- Practice patience and suppress the urge to rush or interrupt the person
- Summarize and reflect on what the person said using your own words so that you can confirm you understand what they’ve just said
- Practice empathy and validate what the person is saying, for example, say, “I can see why you’re upset”.
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