Overcome Bad Listening Habits

by Stephen Boyd | April 30, 2005

Nothing is more insulting to a person talking than for you not to listen—or even to appear not to be listening. You can immediately improve your relationships by identifying and changing bad listening habits.

Do not interrupt the person speaking to you (unless, of course, a life is in danger.) This is rude and makes the other person feel what she or he is saying is not as important to you as what you have to say.

Do not be doing other things when the person is speaking to you. Multi-tasking is good when appropriate, but listening while doing other things will not promote a good relationship. Put the paper down, turn off the television, turn off the cell phone, accept no interruptions from colleagues, avoid looking at the computer screen, and look directly at the person speaking.

Do not be distracted by how the person speaks or how the person looks. An unusual pin on a lapel, a plunging neckline, or a different shirt color pattern can cause your mind to wander. Sometimes a speaker's accent may make you think more about the geographical origin of the person talking and less about what is being said.

Do not top the other person’s story. When someone tells you about a vacation, don’t be tempted then to tell about your own vacation which was at a more exotic location, or at a better beach, or even one with worse problems. Give an approving nod or comment and ask a relevant question about the vacation instead.

Do not let your emotions take over. If you disagree with what the person is saying or feel strongly about the subject matter, don’t respond with an emotional response and give feedback that will antagonize. Remember—when emotions are high, communication is low. Listening is difficult when emotions take over. Ask for more information or give a nonjudgmental comment such as, "I appreciate your sharing that idea with me," or "That is another way to look at this issue."

Do not have a superiority complex. If the person is speaking on a topic you know a lot about, resist the urge to "zone out" because you think you already know all that is necessary on the subject. Even though it would save time, do not interrupt to say, "Yes, I know about that." Listening is hard work and a most important skill to develop. Identifying bad listening habits to avoid is a step toward improving your relationships with others.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

Related Links:

View More Products