5 Bad Listening Habits Messing Up Your Life Right Now

Misunderstandings are everywhere. It’s like the student pilot who was asked over the radio to state his altitude and location. He replied, “I’m five feet nine and I’m in the left-hand seat.”

When my father was in a nursing home, the patients’ food allergies were posted on a large sign above their beds. One day a visitor approached the nurses’ station to say, “You people sure do call them as you see them.”

I was a bit confused by the comment. But then I went into a nearby room and saw that instead of writing that the patient was allergic to shellfish and nuts, the nurse had written in bold letters, “SELFISH AND NUTS.”

I’m sure you can think of a thousand other examples. Miscommunication and misunderstandings are everywhere — and I would add, they are terribly expensive. They destroy marriages, careers, and businesses. From my research, I’ve learned that nine out of ten insurance, real estate, and auto salespeople are out of a job in five years because they talk too much and listen too little.

Could that be said of you? That you talk too much and listen too little?

When I’m speaking to a live audience, I’ve often asked them, “How many of you can think of someone who could or should improve his/her listening?” Most everyone raises their hands.

And then I’ll ask them, “How many of you thought of yourself?” Of course, almost nobody ever raises their hands, but they laugh and get my point.

Chances are you’re not as good at listening as you think you are or need to be. The world’s leading researcher on listening, Dr. Manny Steil, has discovered that most people only get 25% of what is being said. And no business or relationship can attain its full potential at that level of effectiveness.

So my question is this. What’s getting in the way of you being an excellent listener? I would suggest it is two things: a lack of training and the existence of some bad listening habits.

Here are some bad habits you need to eliminate now.

listening► 1. Mind reading

With this bad habit, you think you already know what the other person is going to say. So you listen to the other person for a little while and then jump ahead to another thought.

The point is you’re not staying with the speaker as they speak. Your mind is somewhere else.

To minimize the chances of that happening, take notes. In an important work conversation, ask the other people if it’s okay if you take a few notes. Just tell them that you want to make sure you get everything right and that you don’t want to forget anything. It can be a sign of respect but at the same time it stops your mind reading.

► 2. Rehearsing

If you’re a rehearser, you spend more time thinking about what you are going to say than listening to what the other person is saying. You may construct rebuttals, search for other facts, or anything else you can say when it’s your turn.

If you’re an average listener who may be getting only 25% of what is being said, I highly recommend my upcoming virtual interactive program in LISTEN UP! How To Triple Your Listening Effectiveness coming April 25, 2024, from 3-4:30 pm ET (2 pm CT, 1 pm MT, 12 noon PT).

Be one of the first 50 people to register and you get our BOGO special … Buy One seat and Get One seat free of charge.

► 3. Personalizing

It’s one thing to let people know you can relate to their story or experience. It’s something else to highjack a conversation.

It works like this. While someone is talking, bad-habit personalizers relate everything they hear to one of their own experiences. They’ll say, “That reminds me of …” and go on to tell their story, even before the other one finishes. Personalizers take over the conversation rather than listening.

It’s irritating and rude.

To refrain from this bad habit, ask more questions and make fewer statements. Questions show interest. And paraphrasing the other person’s response shows you really want to understand. So occasionally say such things as, “What I’m hearing you say… and … Your key point seems to be…”

► 4. Daydreaming

The average person can listen three to four times faster than anyone can speak. That makes it easy for your mind to wander off rather than stay tuned in to your partner. And if you’re not careful, you may come upon a topic that is so absorbing that your 25% listening effectiveness drops to 0%.

In my April 25th program on LISTEN UP! How To Triple Your Listening Effectiveness. you’ll learn how to stop these bad habits once and for all.

To kill off this bad habit, put yourself in a position to listen. Sit on the edge of your chair. Lean forward. Look for the other person’s eye color. Maintain eye contact. Don’t get so comfortable that you begin to daydream.

► 5. Selecting

As a selective listener, you only hear what you want to hear. You may listen for something you can agree with so it confirms your own opinions. That can feel good but there’s probably a whole lot more that you’re missing.

Or as a selective listener, you may be on the lookout for something you can belittle or discount to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong. Again you’re selecting what you listen to and ignore the rest. That’s not listening but preparation for battle.

To restrain this bad listening habit, follow this one rule: Withhold evaluation until comprehension is complete. Or put another way, hear the other person out. Don’t jump to conclusions.

The great stateswoman, blind, deaf and mute, Helen Keller said, “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.

What bad habit are you going to stop so you can do better than catch 25% of what is being said?