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15 Things You Do That Make You a Horrible Listener (and How to Improve)

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Are you a good listener? When you converse with people–and they’re talking–are you thinking of your response or are you really listening? If you have more than a few of the bad habits below, it’s time to retrain yourself on how to be a great listener.

1. You’re distracted by stuff.
Whether you’re checking your phone or just staring off into space, thinking about the burrito you’re going to eat for lunch, you’re not paying full attention. really focus on what’s being said–you’ll be more attentive, more organized and relaxed. It could save you a friendship… or a job.

2. You prompt the punchline.
“I get it, so how’d it end?” You may not care about the details of what someone’s explaining, but if you care about them, be attentive and let them finish their thought, even if it is boring. Listening to someone is one of the best ways to express love and respect (great for personal and professional relationships).

3. You time the conversation.
“OK, ya got two minutes.” When someone asks if you have a minute, and a minute actually means an hour, and you say you have a couple minutes, but you really mean a few seconds, just be honest. Either stop what you’re doing and focus on what they’re saying, or politely suggest a later time in the day when you can give them your full attention.

4. You interrupt and finish sentences (and stories).
This major offense is painfully obvious and you probably don’t even realize you’re doing it. When you interject, finish sentences, or take over for someone who’s telling it all wrong, you not only make them feel bad, you make yourself look worse. And everyone notices except you. Whether your constant interrupting comes from a place of excitement or irritation, a little patience goes a long way. And if you must correct someone’s punchline, do it later and in private.

5. You hear, but you don’t listen.
Without trying to psychoanalyze anyone, try to understand the emotions behind what they’re saying.

6. You mistake a pause for the person being done speaking.
Sometimes people need a moment to articulate their thoughts. A pause of silence is not a queue for you to start talking. Learn to be comfortable with a few moments of dead air–the most interesting details usually come out when you give someone a few moments to think. The best interviewers are masters at this technique.

7. You compare everything to your own experiences.
It’s well intentioned but aggravating nonetheless. In an attempt to relate, you somehow end up telling stories about your childhood or stuff you saw on Facebook. When someone unleashes a torrent of all the details of their day, they might just want to unload.

8. You don’t read body language.
Most communication is non-verbal and if you don’t pick up these queues, you probably spend a lot of your time very confused in relationships. If someone says that they’re OK, but their slumped shoulders and crossed arms depict otherwise, let them know that you can see that they’re upset and would like to understand why when they’re ready to talk about it.

9. You’re unaware of your own body language.
If you yawn, stretch, look off into the distance or pick at lint while someone’s speaking to you, they’ll probably assume you’re not listening. Show that you care with eye contact and try to mimic the other person’s body language. If they’re having a drink, you should too. If they’re sitting, you should too.

10. You understand everyone and solve everything.
When people share their woes, you try to solve their problems. You may be a good friend, but you’re a terrible listener. Even if your wisdom is welcomed, wait until someone asks for it. When they do, a great listener will keep it short, sweet, and focus the conversation back on their friend.

11. You don’t ask questions.
Asking questions about what you’re hearing not only affirms that you are paying attention and trying to understand someone, but that you care and are genuinely interested in what they’re saying and how they’re feeling. Ask for more details to help them get out the words and the emotions.

12. You agree with everything.
Nodding and happily agreeing with everything can appear disingenuous and void of emotion, and when you’re void of emotion, you’re hard to read, and that makes everyone uncomfortable. If you want to stay neutral between feuding sides, you can still be a great listener without agreeing (or arguing) about specifics. People just want to be heard and understood with compassion.

13. You’re dismissive.
Don’t assume you’re listening to the same problem just because it sounds like the one you heard a hundred times. Remember the little boy who cried wolf? One time there really was a wolf–if someone had listened, things might have turned out differently. Great listeners keep open minds.

14. You’r parents are horrible listeners.
If you don’t think that your parents and role models are good listeners, chances are you make those same communication blunders. Think about the qualities of a poor listener and of a good listener–emulate the habits you like.

15. You don’t follow up.
A great listener will not only remember your last conversation, but will ask you about the people or vacation you mentioned the next time he sees you. Or better yet, he’ll send a note to follow up and ask how things are going. Aspire to this level of listener because if you think about the best listeners in your life, you’ll usually find that they’re some of the kindest, smartest and well respected people that you know.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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