Want to be a Great Listener? Don’t Do This!

Just as important as knowing how to be a great listener, is knowing what not to do. In spite of good intentions, we may say or do things that bring communication to a screeching halt.

1. AVOIDANCE — Consciously and unconsciously people give clues when they want to talk about something. If we don’t have time or interest, we ignore the signs. Or we might say the right words — “Is something bothering you?” — but continue reading or watching television.

Another means of avoidance is brushing off the speaker’s feelings: “You’re not depressed, just tired. Get a good sleep, you’ll feel better.”

2. INTERRUPTION — is one of most common communication mistakes. Interrupting people when they are talking is like a slap in the face. It invalidates one’s value and importance. Yet we’re all guilty of it.

We interrupt when we…

are more interested in ourselves than the other person;
 think what we have to say is more important;
 assume what the other person is going to say and don’t let them finish;
 exhibit domination and control.

3. COMPARING — the speaker’s experience to our own hijacks the conversation and puts the focus on us. Going one better upstages the speaker: “You think that’s bad. Wait till you hear what happened to me.” Comparing says, “Enough about you. Let’s talk about me.”

4. HUMOR — is most often used when the listener is uncomfortable with the conversation. He guides it off track by making light of a situation. It’s degrading and embarrassing when something we are serious or upset about is the object of jest. The last thing we want to do is share our feelings with that person.

5. REASSURANCE — would appear to be kind and sympathetic but it stops further conversation. If we tell someone, “Don’t worry. It will be all right,” we are dismissing their problem and concerns. When we offer praise saying, “I’m sure you didn’t do anything wrong,” we are discouraging people from exploring their feelings or dealing with a problem.

6. CRITICISM — It is absolutely useless to tell someone how they could have avoided a problem. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, what should or shouldn’t have been done. The issue is how to deal with it in the present. No matter how you dress it up, criticism offends people, lowers self-esteem & causes withdrawal. Critics assume a superior position. The speaker is put on the defensive and shuts down. When we try to put a helpful spin on criticism and blame, we call it…

7. ANALYZING — We may not realize it but we’re moralizing, being self-righteous. Focusing on the past instead of the present, dredging up old news, can make the speaker feel guilty. If our goal is to help, focus on the present unless the speaker brings up the past.

It doesn’t take a giant leap for the critic to issue…

8. ORDERS — like “This is what you have do…!” or warnings: “If you don’t take care of this fast, you’ll be in for a lot of trouble.” Such statements arouse fear and anger. This happens when listener is personally involved and is affected by the situation. The focus shifts to self. We become anxious, defensive, can no longer be objective. Emotion takes over, logic is lost, arguments result. Be honest with yourself when this happens. Step away, let emotions settle down.



When we do any of these things, we are no longer listening, able to be helpful.

A great listener….
 Provides a safe space for a speaker to vent feelings.
 Makes speaker feel valued, respected, understood.
 Helps speaker clarify thoughts and resolve problems.

People are fragile. Emotions are tender. It is less important to solve problems than deal with the emotions they bring up. The emotions, not the problem, are what cause stress and interfere with problem-solving.

Who would you go to if you had a problem? Someone you know would truly listen, care, understand and support you. Hopefully, you have someone like that in your life. And hopefully, you are that person for someone.


Originally published at www.gerioneill.com on February 24, 2016.