4 Ways You TOTALLY Suck As A Listener (And How To Stop)

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listening skills

How good of a listener are you? Truth is, most of us unconsciously make mistakes at some time or another and could use some help improving our listening skills. Take a look that the following common listening mistakes and see if you're guilty of any — and learn how to become a much better listener.

1. You emotionally invalidate.  

  • "Don't be so dramatic."

  • "You must be kidding."

  • "It's not that bad."

  • "You're way too emotional."

  • "You're blowing this way out of proportion."

  • "What is your problem?"

  • "Are you still upset over that? It happened a long time ago."

All of these statements totally dismiss what the other person is feeling. This is called emotional invalidation, and it’s one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse.

We emotionally invalidate our children, lovers, spouses, co-workers, friends and neighbors, and we do it without even realizing it.

It kills confidence, creativity and individuality. It's traumatizing and hurtful. It destroys love and relationships. It perpetuates grudges, conflicts and on a grander level, even war. But still, we've all done it and we've all received it.

We emotionally invalidate because it soothes our own anxiety around emotional people and because we have never learned listening skills to handle emotions and how to respond to them safely.  

TRY THIS LISTENING SKILL INSTEAD: Assess whether this is a good time for you to listen. If not, see if you can schedule a time when you are fully present.

Assess your internal reactions to the speaker. Are you anxious? Do you feel a need to “solve” the problem? Are you able to be completely present in the moment for the speaker?

Think about how you respond. Emotional invalidation is almost always automatic and thoughtless. Even a simple response like, “Gee, that sounds really hard (tough, difficult)” is better than invalidating the speaker’s emotions.

2. You "actively" listen.

You know about active listening. That's when someone mirrors or paraphrases the words you spoke. I don't know about you, but I find active listening manipulative and inauthentic, and it just doesn't work to calm you down. If anything, it makes you madder.

TRY THIS LISTENING SKILL INSTEAD: Listening is not about the words; it’s about the feelings. Ignore the words. When you listen to the words, big problems occur. I talk about why that is in this YouTube video.

You have a natural ability to listen for emotions. Be silent within yourself and allow the speaker’s emotions and feelings to come to you as you listen. Then reflect the emotions, rather than the words. It’s ok to guess at the speaker’s feelings. Don’t worry about guessing wrong. Your speaker will automatically correct you. Example “You are angry.” “I’m not angry, I am really frustrated.” “You are really frustrated.”

Alternatively, search for and state the speaker’s core message. This is powerful when you have a speaker that is disjointed and rambles on. The core message is a short core summary of what you think the speaker is trying to convey. Using a metaphor is almost always powerful. Example of a core message to someone who feels stressed out: “You must feel like a steam boiler about to explode.”

3. You tend to make "I" statements.

  • "What I hear you saying is ..."  

  • "What it sounds like to me is ..."  

  • "What I sense you're feeling is ..."

When you're listening to someone and respond by using an "I" statement, you're interjecting your ego into the conversation. In other words: You're not JUST listening.

The person talking to you isn't truly being heard (or at least won't FEEL like she's being heard) because you've turned the conversation around to be about you.

TRY THIS LISTENING SKILL INSTEAD:  Use “You” statements instead of “I” statements. “You must be …” “You are …” This may seem awkward at first. We are socialized to not presume how other people feel. Hence, we defend ourselves from vulnerability by using “I” statements. Take a risk and use “You” statements.

The shorter and more direct you are, the better. Example:  “You are angry.” “You feel disrespected.”  “You do not feel heard/” “You are being treated unfairly.”

Park your ego at the door. Listening is not about you, it’s about the speaker.

4. You "question."

"Are you angry?" With a rising inflection: "You're angry." Again, to the speaker, the listener is invalidating the emotional experience. To the speaker, the emotion is intense. Yet the listener apparently is ignoring that intensity by questioning the speaker.

TRY THIS LISTENING SKILL INSTEAD:  Be conscious. If you feel yourself starting to frame a question about the speaker’s feelings, stop. Make the question into a direct statement of feeling that your speaker can accept or reject.

Say "You're angry." Say nothing more and nothing less. Labeling emotions or affect labeling has been proved by neuroscientists to be the most powerful form of listening.

You know you have succeed in being a powerful listener when your speaker gives you an unconscious nod of the head, an unconscious statement like "Yeah, yeah," a shoulder slump, and a big sigh. These are all indications that you touched a deep core. You just did it. Great job.