5 Signs of a Bad Listener

A psychotherapist weighs in on how to tell good listeners from bad ones — and how to fix it.

Tara Moore/Getty Images
Tara Moore/Getty Images

There are so many incredibly simple things in life that we unnecessarily complicate; listening is one of them. More specifically, there are 5 ways that listeners unintentionally taint conversations that have the potential to be so connective.

If someone you’re talking to does any of these listening no-no’s, you know it’s more than just annoying.  Bad listening can make the person who’s actually trying to connect feel moreisolated than when they started talking, in addition to newly peeved.

Lets start with the #1 most obvious sign of a bad listener:

1.  They Judge.

The classic example of judging is any version of, What were you thinking?  The runner up example is, Why wouldn’t you just…

People don’t always make the best choices in real time, and when someone is sharing a story about something that upset them, chances are they regret some or all of what happened.  It’s just plain hurtful when a listener details a litany of obvious, better choices that for whatever reason, weren’t accessed at the time.  Judging is like hitting an eject button on connection during a conversation.

2.  They Minimize.

C’mon, it couldn’t have been that bad….You’re making it sound worse than it was…. It was just a joke, take it easy.  

It might not sound so bad to the listener, but they’re a different person who is sensitive to different things.  When our hot buttons are pressed and we’re sharing that with someone, the last thing we want to hear about is how we shouldn’t have hot buttons in the first place.

3.  They Discount Feelings.

There are so many less fortunate people than us in the world, we should just be grateful for our health and all the opportunities around us.

While the above statement is usually true (i.e. there are aspects of the talker’s life that are not being fully appreciated in the moment), it also carries a dangerous subtext: “You are not entitled to ever feel negative emotions.”  For the talker to get to a place where they’re receptive to a broadened perspective, they have to first feel heard.  Feeling heard is a relief.  Not only does feeling heard connect, it calms a person down in a profound way.  From that place of calm, the perspective widens naturally.  The talker already knows they’re fortunate in many ways, and they’ll likely arrive at that perspective on their own — once they feel heard.

4.  They Give Advice.

Oh, well have you thought about doing X? …. You know what I do is Y, then you can just do Z!    

This is probably the most annoying bad listening habit. Doling out unsolicited advice undermines the talker’s sense of basic life competence.  When a talker hears advice, this is what’s typically and silently going on in their head: “No expletive I can do that, that’s not the point.”  Trying to fix a situation comes from such a well-intended place, but the talker is not asking you to fix anything, the talker just wants to be heard.  The talker wants to know, “This person gets how I feel.”  That’s all a talker wants, it’s seriously that simple.  If an adult wants advice, trust that adult to ask for it.

5.  They Don’t Respond at All.

{cricket symphony}

Silence is incredibly powerful in moments, but someone talking about how they feel and constantly getting nothing but crickets and the sound of passing traffic outside in return?  That can immediately deplete a talker of all hope in connecting to the listener.  Warm and empathetic statements are always great ways to validate emotions, “I really can’t imagine what that must have been like for you,” (or) “That must have been so disappointing/upsetting/infuriating/whatever for you.”

It can be immensely frustrating to try to connect with someone who means really well but isn’t actually hearing what you’re trying to communicate.  Asking for what you need and sharing what you would no longer like (i.e. advice, silence, etc.) can genuinely change a dynamic, so give it a shot!

Originally published on www.katherineschafler.com.

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