Are You Listening?

canthearThere are times when I’m a terrible listener. During conversations, I’ve been known to be distracted, judgmental, argumentative – or to partially ignore the person I’m chatting with.

It isn’t that I don’t hear the person I’m speaking with, I certainly do. But it’s more that I’m not really listening to what they are saying. Because I know that listening isn’t my best skill, I consciously work on improving it.

There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a function of your ears. Listening is a function of your brain; making sense of the words that you are hearing.

Most people are just not good listeners. They are too worried about what they want to say, or their own point of view, that they just don’t listen to what the other person has to say. When we don’t listen attentively we are, in effect, saying to our conversation partner that what they have to say isn’t important to us. This bad habit is not only hard on our relationships, it’s particularly detrimental to our professional success as well.

We all have bad habits when we listen to each other and virtually all of us (myself included) need to fix those habits.

Check to see if you are guilty of any of the habits below and if so, follow the advice given to correct each bad listening habit.

  1. You’re talking instead of listening.

Two people can’t speak at the same time and have a conversation. That’s more like two separate conversations. Each speaker is listening to what they themselves are saying and they aren’t listening to each other (in fact, they are probably arguing).

So, you need to stop talking! When the other person is speaking, you should not be speaking. You shouldn’t be interrupting them, and you shouldn’t be thinking about what you are going to say next, either. If you are thinking about what you are going to say, you are still talking; it just isn’t out loud. It’s in your head, but it still means you’re not listening as you should.

Great tip – I’ve had many people tell me they are afraid that if they don’t say what is on their mind immediately, they will forget. I say that if they forget that quickly, it wasn’t that important. If an idea comes into your head and you don’t want to forget, put your hands together and mentally assign that thought to your hands. Keep your hands together until you share your thought (when the other person is finished).

  1. Your typical response is “Me, too.”

When you make the conversation all about you, you are not listening and you are certainly not validating the other person.

For instance, if you and I are chatting and you tell me that you are really busy, I shouldn’t be saying, “Me, too.” If I am, then I’ve made the conversation about me, instead of about you (which means I wasn’t really listening to what you were saying). I could ask you what is keeping you so busy. I could ask if I can help. And during that conversation, I could mention that I am busy too. But I shouldn’t take your comment and make it about me. That isn’t relating to your conversation partner, it is making it all about you (and that makes you not only a bad listener but a bad conversationalist, as well).

  1. You’re distracted or multi-tasking.

We’ve all heard the expression, Listen with your eyes. That means, essentially,  paying attention to the person we are chatting with. If we are distracted by something (a cell phone, computer, television, etc.) we aren’t listening to the other person, but are only hearing what they have to say. We may occasionally ask a question, but we aren’t giving the other person our full attention.

Do one thing when you are in a conversation, and that is listen. Don’t multi-task, don’t focus on something else, but stop and really listen to what the other person is saying. Give them your full attention.

Listening is work. It doesn’t happen automatically, like hearing does. However, by being a good listener, you will reap the rewards both personally and professionally.

Thanks for listening.

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