7 Poor Listening Styles And How To Avoid Them: Blog Series Part 3
Working on listening skills is difficult if we don’t know what to look for or what to work on. This article lists poor listening styles and how to avoid them.
When people ask me how to become better communicators, I often tell them to begin by working on their listening skills. Listening is the most influential and important communication skill, yet few make a conscious effort to become better at it. It all starts with our listening style.
What is a listening style?
A listening style concerns our inner attitude to the communication we receive. It confronts the posture of our heart and what we pay attention to when we listen. Ideally, we only have good listening styles. This includes open-mindedness, being observant, and non-judgemental. However, that is not always the case, which is why this post will address poor listening styles.
I guarantee that when you read through these listening styles you will recognize some. It could be, that someone did this to you when you were talking. Or, maybe you have even done one of these yourself? Regardless, this post is not aimed at calling out bad listeners. The point is to recognize when we do it, so when a relationship really matters and we should listen, we are aware of the things NOT to do. Below are the listening styles you want to avoid.
1. Fake listening
Fooling the speaker into thinking that you are listening. I wrote about mindless listening in this post, but fake listening is different. When we are listening mindlessly we aren’t attempting to pay attention or acting as if we do. With fake listening, we are pretending as if we are listening, but secretly we aren’t. To not get caught in fake listening, we must nod our heads, look at the person often, and give a few “aha’s” or “okay’s” to pull it off.
How to fix fake listening
The worst thing about this listening style is that it almost takes more energy to “act” as if we are listening, than the energy it takes to actually listen. If you find yourself pseudolistening, ask yourself why you aren’t paying attention. In case you are preoccupied, simply say you need to finish something important before you can have the conversation. If you are just not interested, then consider the relationship. Should you, nicely, say that you don’t care or should you suck it up and pay attention?
This listening style is a shift-response that takes the attention away from the speaker to ourselves. “Let’s talk about me for a second.” It is a narcissistic listening style. Instead of letting the person finish their story, the narcissist one-ups the speaker or makes the topic of the conversation about themselves. As you can imagine, this conversation style can really hurt relationships if it happens frequently. Actually, in job interviews, you are less likely to get the job if you use this listening style. By that, I mean not asking questions about the job and only talking about yourself. Do you see now how listening styles can have a very real effect on our lives and our plans for the future?
How to fix stage-hogging
Look, we all do it. It is much easier to pay attention to a conversation if it involves us in it. If you catch yourself doing it, apologize and steer the conversation back to what the person was talking about. If you catch yourself before you do it even better! Ask if what you are about to say adds to the conversation or if it hogs the conversation.
3. Selective listening: “So you’re saying there is a chance…”
Selective listening means people only listen to what interests them. First, let me make it clear, there are times when it is okay to be a selective listener. Mothers do it all the time. They can have a deep conversation with other adults, yet still, listen to the sound of their children playing. Selective hearing tells them that everything is alright with their child. That is until they hear screaming or crying. Until then, they are not concerned. This scenario for selective hearing is acceptable.
What is not acceptable is listeners, that only focus on what benefits them and disregard everything else in a conversation. This type of listener will miss the point and the important details.
How to fix selective listening
This listening style has more to do with empathy. Empathy will force you to pay attention to details and actually look for the point. Ask yourself if you caught the main point of what the person is trying to communicate. If you are unsure, then ask questions or paraphrase. You can learn more about good listening responses here.
4. Avoidance listening
Avoidance listening is the opposite of selective listening. Instead of honing in on the topic of the conversation it focuses on unimportant details. Avoidance often happens when the topic is uncomfortable to talk about. Taboos or sensitive topics like religion, politics, sexuality, etc, often cause avoidance. In a way, it is a coping mechanism for listeners, that don’t want to leave the conversation but also don’t want to comment or get involved in the issue.
How to fix avoidance listening
Ask yourself if your comments or responses are an attempt to avoid the topic of the conversation. Are they necessary or would it be better to just be prompting and not commenting? As mentioned, the most common reason for avoidance listening is because the topic makes us uncomfortable. Or, it could be because we just aren’t paying attention. To know more about why we fail at listening, read this.
5. Defensive listening
Defensive listeners take the other persons remarks as a personal insult. We see it typically in teenagers when they assume a question is an attack on them. Instead of listening or assuming that a statement is generic, they take any comment as something directed at them. A defensive listener can easily turn a joke into a fight.
How to fix defensive listening
Was the statement really directed at you? Consider the person who was talking, and ask yourself if their interest is to hurt you. Instead of becoming defensive you need to use perception checking. Perception checking is a great tool to confront contempt and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
Ambushing means listening carefully to collect information AGAINST the communicator. This listening style is the “AHA — I knew you did it!” attorney style listening. It happens in relationships where there is already mistrust and saltiness in the air. If you use this listening style, don’t be surprised if the person you are speaking to respond with defensiveness. Defensiveness is a sign of conflicts gone south in the relationship. Read about the effects of defensiveness in a relationship in this post. It talks about four conflict styles that will kill your relationship.
How to fix ambushing
If this listening style happens in a relationship, there is probably already a conflict going on. To fix this, you need to confront the conflict. I wrote a series on conflict resolution. It’s designed to address and take responsibility for emotions and how to lovingly confront conflicts in a relationship.
7. Insensitive listening
Insensitive listening happens when the listener responds superficially to an important emotional message. It is similar to avoidance listening but occurs more as a thoughtless response. The reason why this listening style is extra damaging is because it typically happens while the speaker is attempting transparency and vulnerability. When expressing difficult emotions we are more sensitive to the response we get. Non-engagement or a response that shows an inability to relate or sympathize seems insensitive.
How to fix insensitive listening
Hopefully, this is a listening style that doesn’t happen a lot in your life and if it happens, you catch it and apologize. To avoid being insensitive we must pay attention to details and body language. Details help us determine if the person is communicating regarding something sensitive.
OTHER SIMPLE THINGS WE CAN DO TO AVOID POOR LISTENING?
The more we pay attention to our attitude and our response, the better we can adjust our listening style. These four following tips are additional things that can help fix bad listening styles.
We have two ears and one mouth. Coincidence? When we allow others speaking time, let them finish their points, and not just wait for our turn to talk, we become better listeners. There’s a huge difference in talking to a person who listens, compared to one who only waits for their turn to talk.
Turn off the phone, put the computer away
Get rid of distractions. This is one of the things I repeat a lot when teaching on interpersonal communication. Look! I’ll check my phone in conversations, just as much as any other person. But, I try to only do it when I am in a group settings, in relaxed hangouts or a non-official meeting. When sitting one-on-one, no way! It is so noticeable that the attention disappears the moment those eyes hit the screen. Put your devices away, and if something urgent comes up, explain it.
No preconceived ideas
Preconceived ideas occure when we have conflicting ideas or beliefs with the speaker. We all hate when someone assumes that they know the ending to our story, just because they think they have us figured out. Even if we are not voicing it, let’s not judge prematurely.
Look for main Ideas, and respond with appropriately
Responding in an appropriate listening response is addressed in the next post of the series. When we seek to comprehend the main point, we show that we are paying attention and it becomes easier to respond accordingly.
As mentioned earlier; this post is not intended to make anyone feel bad about the way they listen. Rather the idea is to help recognize poor listening styles and habits. If you are looking to become better at communication this is the way to avoid bad listening. If this is you, you should read the rest of the posts in this blog series.
Thank you for reading. We would love to hear from you so please comment with your listening experiences or thoughts on listening below.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is meant as help and is for general informational purposes only. Meaning, do not consider this as legal advice or a consultation. To clarify, I am a communication strategist and consultant with a degree in Communications, and I teach on conflict resolution and communication skills. Surely, I love what I do, and my advice is always based on either textbook communication theory or empirical evidence. However, I cannot be held liable for how you apply my advice. Without a doubt, I hope you well and success in applying the views I share on this blog.