Are You a Bad Listener?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Have you been accused of having poor listening skills? Not sure if it’s true?

What are good listening skills, and how are they connected to relationships and mental health?

Signs you are a bad listener

We live in a competitive, ‘cult of me’ world, where listening skills are far from the norm. In fact many people who consider themselves a good listener are often far from it.

Signs you are a bad listener include:

  • interrupting or speaking over others
  • planning what you will say when the other person talks
  • or thinking about other things entirely until it’s your turn
  • matching every story someone tells with your own, 'better' version
  • never allowing pauses in conversation
  • changing the topic abruptly if the other person is boring you
  • never asking questions
  • instead, starting most phrases with ‘I think that….”
  • constantly offering unasked for ‘advice’.

It’s not my fault if people are boring…

People being boring is your perspective and an opinion, not a fact. Most people have something in common with us if we take the time to find it.

If you find people boring, it’s often because you are not taking the time to appreciate another person, recognise similarities, or ask good questions.

If you always are bored by others, there can be psychological reasons for it. It might be that you:

Learning how to communicate can be a very useful tool for you.

The price of having poor listening skills

Bad listening leaves people assuming you don’t want to know them, or ends with them not trusting you. They can back away, and you can be left lonely.

In the workplace, this can manifest as others not wanting to do projects with you, or not being chosen for certain teams.

And in romantic relationships, bad listening is often the real issue behind constant conflict and bickering. You might actually want the same things, but your lack of listening means you misjudge the other.

The benefits of good listening

Good listening, on the other hand, has the following benefits:

  • people like being around you as they feel appreciated
  • gaining the trust of others
  • connecting to others
  • being listened to in return
  • finding yourself more interested in other people
  • recognising others wants and needs
  • understanding others more.

What are good listening skills?

Good listening is not about staying quiet until it’s your turn to talk. It’s about actually focussing and appreciating what the other person says.

1. Be fully present.

This is perhaps the most important part of listening. You need to put your entire focus on the other person and be in the present moment. It can help to repeat what they are saying in your head, to stop your mind from wandering off.

2. Allow pauses.

There is no need to fill every moment with words. Good listening means leaving a pause after the other person finishes speaking before you speak.

3. Reflect back.

This is a simple technique where you repeat back what the other person said, particularly if you are not sure what they meant or if you heard correctly. It often turns into a question. “I’m going out for dinner with my friend tonight.” “You are going out to dinner with Susan tonight?” “Yes, that’s right, with Susan.”.

4. Ask good questions.

As well as reflecting back, ask good questions that help you understand what the other person is sharing. It’s a good idea to stick to ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions which are forward looking, over ‘why’ questions which are backwards questions and can lead to upset of confusion. “How are you feeling about seeing Susan again?” or, “What will that be like to see her again?” Are better than, “Why would you want to see her again after what she did?” .

5. Be honest.

A truly good listener also knows when to draw the line. It’s better to be honest if you don’t have the energy to listen, or the other person will sense it and take it personally. “I’m really sorry, I’ve had a terrible day at work and can’t give you the attention you deserve. Could we reconvene tomorrow to discuss this?”.

Is a mental health issue stopping you from having good listening skills? Therapy helps. Use our easy booking tool to find your perfect therapist now.

Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy

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