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"We all want to
speak and be heard. There is nothing more discouraging than pouring out
your heart and finding your listener doodling, sleeping, or even
worse…rehearsing their “that’s nothing compared to my story”
Poor Listening Habits
Most people spend more time listening
than they spend on any other communication activity, yet a large
percentage of people never learn to listen well. One reason is that they
develop poor listening habits that continue with them throughout life. The
following is a list of poor listening habits:
- Not paying attention – Listeners may allow
themselves to be distracted or to think of something else.
- Pseudolistening – Often, people who are
thinking about something else deliberately try to look as though they
- Listening but not hearing – Sometimes a
person listens only to facts or details or to the way in which they
are presented and misses the real meaning of the communication.
- Rehearsing – Some people listen until they
want to say something; then they stop listening, start rehearsing what
they will say, and wait or an opportunity to respond.
- Interrupting – the listener does not wait
until the complete meaning can be determined, but interrupts so
forcefully that the speaker stops in mid-sentence.
- Hearing what is expected – People frequently
think that they heard speakers say what they expected them to say.
Alternatively, they refuse to hear what they do not want to hear.
- Feeling defensive – The listeners assume
that they know the speaker’s intention or why something was said, or
for various other reasons, they expect to be attacked.
- Listening for a point of disagreement – Some
listeners seem to wait for the chance to attack someone. They listen
intently for points on which they can disagree.
One way people can improve their
listening is to identify their own poor listening habits and make an
effort to change them. If the listeners pay special attention to the
circumstances that seem to invite such behavior, they can consciously
attempt to change their habits. For example, if a person realizes that he
or she is pseudolistening to another, the listener can ask the speaker to
repeat their last statement(s). The listener can say “I’m so sorry; my
mind wandered a bit”. The more people become conscious of their
listening behaviors, the more likely they are to change their poor
Besides ridding themselves of bad
listening habits, people need to acquire positive listening habits. Listed
below are a few behaviors that lead to effective listening:
Paying attention – If
people really want to be good listeners, they pay attention to the
speakers. When speakers are dull, a listener sometimes must use great
effort to keep from being distracted by other things.It is important
not only to focus on the speaker, but to use non-verbal cues (such as
eye contact, head nods, and smiles) to let the speakers know that they
are being heard.
Listening for the whole message
– This includes looking for meaning and consistency or
congruence in both the verbal and non-verbal messages and listening
for ideas, feelings and intentions as well as facts. It also includes
hearing things that are unpleasant or unwelcome
Hearing before evaluating –
Listening to what someone says without drawing premature a conclusion
is a valuable aid to listening. By questioning the speaker in a non
accusing manner, rather than giving advice or judgment, a listener
often can discover exactly what the speaker has in mind- which many
times is quite different from what the listener had assumed.
Paraphrasing what was heard –
If the listener non-judgmentally paraphrases the words of the speaker
and asks if that is what was meant, many misunderstandings and
misinterpretations can be avoided.
As you can see from the above,
listening is not as automatic as you might think. Here are additional
suggestions from another source that can make you a good listener.
Skills of a Good Listener
- Be interested and show it –
Genuine concern and a lively curiosity encourages others to speak
freely. Interest also sharpens your attention and builds on itself.
- Tune into the other person – Try to
understand his or her viewpoint, assumptions, needs and systems of
- Hold your fire – Avoid jumping to
conclusions. Hear the speaker out. Plan your response only after you
are certain that you’ve gotten the whole message.
- Look for the main ideas – Avoid being
distracted by details. Focus on the key issue. You may have to dig
hard to find it.
- Watch for feelings – Often people talk to
“get something off their chests.” Feelings, not facts, may be the
- Monitor your own feelings and point of view
– Each of us listens differently. Our convictions and emotions
filter—even distort—what we hear. Be aware of your own attitudes,
prejudices, beliefs and your emotional reaction to the message.
- Notice non-verbal language – A shrug, a
smile, a nervous laugh, gestures, facial expressions and body
positions speak volumes. Start to read them.
- Give the other person the benefit of the doubt
– We often enter conversations with our minds already made up, at
least partially, on the basis of past experience. Prejudgments can
shut out new messages.
- Work at listening – Hearing is passive. Our
nervous system does the work. Listening is active. It takes mental
effort and attention.
- Get feedback – Make certain you’re really
listening. Ask a question. Confirm with the speaker what he/she