By Marie Hartwell-Walker Ed.D
Most people know that one of the keys to success in relationships is good listening.
Experts tell us to use “active” listening, “I messages,” and open-ended questions. Articles urge us to stop talking when someone speaks, to use our body language effectively to encourage the other guy, and to work to understand what is meant as well as what is said. We’ve been told that men are from Mars and women are from Venus and we’ve been taught how to translate the gender languages. Yet despite all that, developing good listening skills continues to be a challenge for some people.
Generally, it’s better to emphasize the positive and teach folks useful skills. But at least some people some of the time find it equally useful to have the negative pointed out and explained. They want guidelines for what not to do. So here are eight ways that lousy listeners louse up communication and probably louse up their relationships.
- Lousy listeners are attending to other things when you are speaking. Proud of their ability to multitask, they continue to scan the newspaper, pick up the living room, text, or clean their desk while being addressed. An occasional ‘uh-huh’ is supposed to cue you that, really, they are with you. They’re not — or at least not totally. Their mind is distracted. Chances are they miss important pieces of your message — even if they protest that they don’t.
- Lousy listeners are planning how they will respond even while you are speaking. They are so busy rehearsing their reply that they miss part of your message and don’t catch the nuances of your communication. They’re ready with a paragraph before you’ve even completed a sentence.
- Lousy listeners steal the ball. You say something like, “I can hardly wait to tell you about my trip to the Grand Canyon.” Before you get the last word out, they start: “The Grand Canyon? I was there once. Let me tell you. It was so interesting. We went on this and did that and this and that happened. And we met these wonderful people at the dude ranch we stayed at.” They are off and running with their description of their own experience. You are left to hold your story for another day – if you get the chance then either.
- Lousy listeners change the subject before you are ready to do so. Maybe you are talking about something sensitive between you or maybe the topic is just more meaningful to you. Either because they aren’t interested or because you are making them nervous, they steer the conversation to something that interests them more or that makes them feel safer. You say, “I’d love to go see such and such a concert.” They say, “Sunday night is football night.” Collaboration or compromise isn’t a strong point. You say, “I’m really upset with the way you spoke to my mother.” They say, “What are we having for dinner tonight?” Empathy isn’t a strong point either.
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