How to Be a Bad Listener

1.  Focus on your own feelings about what your friend or colleague or partner or student or child is talking about rather than on what he or she is saying about how he or she feels.  Take every opportunity to think about how what you are hearing says something about yourself.

2.  Allow your own feelings about what you are hearing to interfere with what the speaker is trying to say.  Defend yourself immediately against these feelings by making what the speaker is saying somehow about you rather than about him- or herself.  Start arguing about whose perception of the situation is correct.  If this doesn't work, counterattack, e.g. by making the speaker feel guilty for having the feelings that he or she has expressed.

3.  Presume that you know what the speaker really means before he or she stops talking (or you interrupt).  Presume that the speaker knows you understand what he or she has said without checking to be sure (e.g. by asking questions for clarification or paraphrasing back what the speaker has just said). 

4.  Steal the limelight.  "That's happened to me, too."  "I've felt that, too."  Make it about you.  Use the other person's situation as an opportunity to comfort, encourage or motivate him or her based on your own experience.

5.  Assume that the speaker is asking for advice, with the corollaries that you understand what the problem is, that you have answers to the problem, that the speaker hasn't thought of these answers him- or herself, and that he or she will be able to act on the solutions you propose.  This works particularly well if you want to encourage your listener to be dependent upon you.  Answer every "yes, but" with another argument about why the speaker (now forced to listen to you) should take your advice.  Make sure your now-listener feels guilty for not taking your advice.

6.  Pass judgment on what your friend, colleague, partner, student or child has just said.  Class the speaker as like others rather than listening to what is actually being said here and now by the unique individual in front of you.  Assume based on this classification that you know what he or she is going to say.  Actively agree or disagree with what has just been said.

--Paraphrased from Paul J. Donoghue and Mary E. Siegel, Are You Really Listening? Keys to Successful Communication (Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2005).


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