8 Terrible Ways to Listen

listeningI suck at listening. No, my hearing is not impaired. I have a difficult time staying focused on another person’s words. I’m much better than I use to be, but here are the ways I still struggle.

If they bring up an interesting point, my brain can go off on a mini-tangent entertaining the possibilities of the idea they proposed. Meanwhile, I miss the last three things they said.

When in a debate, I rehearse the most amazing point I intend to make. I’m afraid I’ll forget it and then it will be lost to the world forever. Of course this means I’m not listening, just biding my time until their mouth stops moving.

Sometimes I’m not interested. My husband’s field is very technical and when he talks about the details of his work, I fade away. One time I caught myself thinking about how I was going to fix a finicky WordPress plugin. I refocused. It happens again. When it happens more than three times, I ask him to skip the details. I want to be loving, but come on, distillation columns? I don’t even know what those are, but more importantly, I don’t WANT to know what they are. If I can stay present during these technical explanations, I consider it progress.

And last but not least, I interrupt. I want to move things along and speed up the conversation. It’s a waste of time to explain something to me I already understand. Okay, there are times I’ve been wrong but I’m right at least 70% of the time. Maybe 60%? My poor husband. He must get tired of saying “Let me finish, just listen.”

Here is a list of unproductive listening styles. I have identified mine, which ones are you guilty of committing?

8 Ineffective Listening Styles

  1. Yeah, Uh-huh Listening
    (Faking it, pretending to listen, but not.)
  2. Houdini Listening
    (One minute you’re there, then gone, then poof, back again)
  3. Judgmental Listening
    (Get to the point, don’t care, you just go on and on and on…)
  4. Agenda Listening
    (Listening only to the parts that fits your agenda.)
  5. Defensive Listening
    (Listening for the put-down, accusations, or hurtful comment.)
  6. Rehearsal Listening
    (Rehearsing in your head what you’ll say when they stop talking.)
  7. Interrupting Listening
    (Butting in because remaining silent could be taken as you agree.)
  8. Fixing Listening
    (Listening with the intention of giving advice and saving the day.)

(List inspired by Susan Abrams.)

The first step towards becoming a better listener, is to be aware of your current ineffective listening styles. All change starts with awareness. Start paying attention to what you’re doing when someone else is talking. Are you with them all the way, or drifting? Why is your attention straying? Answer these questions to understand yourself better.

If you don’t want to do the work of knowing yourself better, at least notice when you’re not listening. Then put down what you’re thinking about and return to their words.

This internal self-analysis is distracting at first, but over time, you get quicker at spotting the problem and making adjustments. Everyone who talks to you will applaud your efforts.