We all started developing our listening skills way back in kindergarten, but how many of us have actually worked to foster those skills over the course of our lives? The answer: not many.
Being a good listener is a rare quality among adults—yet it is a skill that can help to deepen connections, relationships, friendships, and even help to further your career. Ask yourself: are you a good listener? Before you immediately answer yes, it’s important to consider that your listening skills probably aren’t as great as you think. Here are the telltale signs of a not-so-great listener.
1. You interrupt.
Are you guilty of constantly blurting out your thoughts without regard to anyone else? One major no-no of being a good listener is interrupting.
This can be a difficult impulse to control, but try to be mindful of it. The whole point of listening is to allow someone else to get their point of view across. Don’t interject or blurt out thoughts when the other person is speaking. Your perspective can wait. Make the other person feel heard.
2. You minimize others’ feelings.
Don’t make your friend feel bad for having the feelings they have. Don’t diminish their concerns. Do you say things like, ”It couldn‘t have been that bad,” or, “I‘m sure you‘re exaggerating.”? That can actually be extremely insensitive.
Listen to a person and acknowledge the reality they see. It may be different from your own, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Appreciate their perspective, and do not minimize their feelings.
3. You give unsolicited advice.
You are not automatically in the therapist’s seat every time you listen. You do not have to advise—in fact, you shouldn’t. Listening is not lecturing. Only give advice when someone directly asks for it. Even then, tread cautiously.
4. You fidget.
Your body language speaks volumes. If you are rolling your eyes, crossing your arms, looking uncomfortable, impatient, or bored, you aren’t creating a safe and secure environment for your friend to communicate.
The best way to avoid this is to actually be engaged in the conversation. Don’t let your mind drift. Don’t pick up your phone. Don’t glaze over. Be in the present—mentally and physically—and you’ll even look like a better listener.
5. You say nothing.
There is such a thing as too much listening. You have to interact. If you are silent and unresponsive while your friend monologues, it can come off as though you haven’t been listening at all. You have to engage and just let the person know that you hear them. Listening isn’t a passive activity—you have to be actively involved.
6. Your phone is on the table.
There is nothing more disheartening than to see a friend checking their phone while you’re spilling your guts, right? Remember that the next time your phone buzzes during a conversation. Eye contact is really important. Don’t glance at a screen during a conversation, not even for a moment.
In fact, keep your phone off the table altogether. It’s rude, and it is a great way to show you aren’t really listening or prioritizing the conversation.
7. You listen, but you don’t actually hear.
You actually need to process what other people are saying. It’s not enough to just sit and nod your head. Try to really hear what the other person is saying. Use your big brain to process sentences, feelings, emotions, and body language to bring some quality support to the table. It takes practice, but if you focus, you’ll be amazed at how much more you can pick up on.
We’ve all been guilty of being a bad listener at one point or another. No one is perfect. But that doesn’t give us the excuse to stop improving upon our listening skills. To become a better listener, all you have to do is actively listen. Be engaged. Be present. Open up a space for your friend to freely communicate, feel comfortable, and feel free of judgement. Really lend an ear, and your relationships will be so much richer for it.