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Do You Know How to Be a Good Listener?

Do you ever feel like you’re speaking and not being heard?

You know what I’m talking about:

  • You confide in a friend and she keeps checking her cell phone.
  • You pitch an idea to a co-worker and he interrupts with his own idea.
  • You tell your husband about your day and his eyes glaze over.

These situations are not only annoying; they’re downright hurtful. But it’s not surprising they happen. People think that when we hear, we listen. But listening is really hard work and takes a lot of concentration. No wonder our friends and family and co-workers can be lousy at it. But what about you — are you a good listener?

Last weekend I was strolling through the Berkeley Farmer’s Market when I met a listener who was truly committed to her work. She was sitting in a booth beside a sign that read: “Deep Listening Post.” I was blown away by her dedication to listening. Judith Katz is a member of the Empathic Listening Street Team whose mission is to overcome heartbreak, anxiety, loneliness, confusion, and stress using the power of empathetic listening.

The Deep Listening Street Team sets up their table in noncommercial spaces for people to be heard without being advised, interrogated, diagnosed, or charged money. Street Team members listen to the feelings and needs underlying the speaker’s expression and reflect back what they heard.

The experience of being listened to so deeply was incredibly powerful and so unique, it reminded me that I’m sometimes guilty of some common bad listening habits.

4 Bad Listening Habits

  1. Distractions: When you glance at your grocery list as your husband is talking, you’re not listening. You may think you’re getting the gist of what he’s saying, but are you really concentrating? Probably not.
  2. Interruptions: This bad habit is self-explanatory, rude and a sure sign you’re not listening.
  3. One Upping: Imagine you’re telling a friend about the Paris vacation you’re planning, when he cuts in and says: “I lived there for 3 years and know that city like the back of my hand!” There’s certainly nothing wrong with engaging in a conversation, but cutting into the speaker’s story to talk about yourself is a sign you weren’t digesting his message.
  4. Problem Solving: Someone with this habit thinks: I’m listening, but only enough to find a problem and fix it for you. “Oh, your trip to Paris is this month? Why would you go there in that summer humidity? And don’t even think about cooling down in the air-conditioned museums, they’re too crowded.”

Do any of these habits remind you of your listening habits? Even if they don’t, we can still improve our listening skills — because listening is a skill that’s used in every relationship. Think about the last miscommunication you had. How much of that was because you were not fully listening?

Whether your listening skills need a tune-up or a complete overhaul, listening takes conscious work.

3 Ways to Become a Better Listener

  1. Catch yourself when you’re not listening. Once you become aware of poor listening habits, identify when you do them. Stop and say: “Whoops, here I go again, giving advice,” or “Here I go again, telling my story instead of listening to yours.”
  2. Paraphrase. Just like good waiters who repeat your order back to you, good listeners restate what they’re hearing. It’s also called “reflective listening.”
  3. Make eye contact with the speaker. Squarely face the speaker and watch her face for visual cues, which can be as important as auditory cues.

Taking the time to really listen can go a long way in strengthening communication. It takes patience, energy and focus to practice these basic skills, but the payoff is worth it. Once they become a habit you’ll notice you’re connecting more with people and they’ll notice too.


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