5 Key Reasons for Poor Listening Skills

Listening is critical to your workday and poor listening skills can ruin it. Top executives for a Chicago manufacturing plant were asked to survey the role of listening in their plant. After hearing a seminar on listening, Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens explain in their Harvard Business Review article, that one of the most common responses was:

“Frankly, I had never thought of listening as an important subject by itself. But now that I am aware of it, I think that perhaps 80 percent of my work depends on my listening to someone, or on someone else listening to me.”

This is true for nearly anyone who works with other people. Having good listening skills is critical to avoiding miscommunication and staying connected with other team members and managers.

Key reasons for poor listening skills

Improving your listening is critical for being effective in the office. The first step to doing so is understanding and identifying your poor listening habits. Here are common reasons for poor listening skills and how you can improve them.

1. Too many distractions

Distractions are everywhere, whether it’s a phone ringing or someone interrupting a meeting. The temperature of a conference room could even count as distraction if it’s making you uncomfortable. As such, the four common main types of distractions according to Bright Hub are:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Auditory
  • Visual

To be better at listening, eliminate distractions where and whernever possible.

Small changes like turning your phone on silent or closing down your laptop can help limit these common distractions. Take note of what distracts you for an entire week and then actively work to reduce those distractions in all your interactions.

2. Pseudo-listening

Pseudo-listening is a type of non-listening in which you appear attentive in conversation while actually ignoring or only partially listening to the other person. You may find that you do this in conversations without even thinking about it, which hurts you and the person you’re supposed to be listening to.

Fred Halstead, author of Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results, puts it simply: “If you just hear the words without hearing what the person actually intends to say, you will miss the opportunity to gain the essential clarity and results you seek.” In the office environment, this could mean the difference between getting the project details you need to complete it successfully and failing. 

If your mind is somewhere else or wandering, you’re not listening, even if you look engaged in a meeting or conversation. The best way to avoid this is to use a simple active listening tactic: when responding, repeat back what you’ve heard so you can make sure you’re listening and understanding.

3 & 4. Interjecting or rehearsing your response

Conversations can be exciting and interesting—so much so that you want to chime in before you forget your thoughts. Constantly jumping into the conversation, however, means you’re not listening and instead just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can express your opinion.

On the other hand, if you know you shouldn’t interrupt, you end up thinking about what you’re going to say instead so you don’t forget your thoughts. You rehearse or plan your response and thus miss out on important parts of the conversation. In planning your response, you effectively stop listening because you’re too focused on what you have to say.

Fight the urge to interrupt or focus on your response by taking notes while listening so you can remember what you want to say. This way, you keep staying engaged in the conversation until the person speaking has completed their thoughts.

5.  Giving advice

Dishing out unwanted advice is a common reason for poor listening skills. “Trying to fix a situation comes from such a well-intended place, but the talker is not asking you to fix anything, the talker wants to be heard,” according to Katherine Shafler, a psychotherapist in NYC.

Typically the talker has something important to share or ask for, and interrupting to give advice before they ask for it takes this opportunity away from them. If they want advice, they’ll ask for it. What’s more, giving unwanted advice stops you from listening and instead puts you in the speaker role.

This is another time when having a notepad can be helpful. If the person asks for your feedback, you can refer to your notes to give it at the end.

Listen up now

Listening is critical to being effective in the workplace. Identify the reasons why you have poor listening skills and remedy the issues so you can tune in once and for all.

Great  listening could even lead to a promotion or project opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if you missed important details or cut your manager off. So be a better listener for your co-workers and yourself.

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