Let’s be honest. Even with the best of intentions, it’s not always easy to be a good listener. We’re bombarded from all sides by competing outside stimuli and inner psychological noise.
Obviously, if you’re grappling with your own issues, it’s difficult to devote your full attention to someone else. Understandable, but it can still be misconstrued as self-centeredness even if your heart is in the right place.
Also, if the person you’re conversing with evokes strong emotions in you, be it a crush or someone you plain don’t like, you can lose yourself to the inner noise that draws your attention away from what’s being said.
Perhaps because you can’t stop thinking about how cute they are or how much you loathe them.
There are social cues we give off when we’re mentally orbiting Pluto when we should be listening, which I’ll be covering in this article.
I’ll start with one of the most obvious – not asking for more information.
1) No questions asked
Asking questions is probably the most important way to signify that we are interested and engaged in the conversation.
The quality of the questions themselves is variable. For example, questions that begin with “how” encourage a longer, more detailed response.
“Yes” or “no” questions are better used for clarification purposes rather than building on the discussion.
Use questions that start with “what” or “why” to invite the other person to expand on the conversation. Good listeners want backstory.
Keep those questions flowing, or one person will be stuck talking to themselves.
2) One-sided conversation
If you notice that you’re doing most of the talking most of the time, welcome to the very big club. You’re preventing other people from getting a word in edgewise for several reasons.
Bad listeners tend to make every conversation all about them, and not their fellow conversants.
I understand this tendency all too well. I find myself frenetically info-dumping during a conversation before I forget the points I’m trying to make. ADHD be like that sometimes.
Then there’s the opposite of me, the Dead Silence dude or dame.
3) Dead silence
When I’d ask my father a question, he would take for-freaking-ever to respond. After I grew up, I realized he was simply considering his words before he opened his mouth (a gift he did not pass down to his daughter.)
There was no malice intended, but I found it terribly frustrating. I’d be standing there in a very-awkward-to me silence as my Dad ruminated mentally for what felt like 50 years.
Look. If you don’t make a single peep, the person talking to you has no idea whether you’re listening. They may feel compelled to check your pulse.
A simple response or even a grunt would be better than silence, but actually engaging in the conversation is even better!
If you’ve got someone pouring their heart out to you, don’t be the strong, silent type. Convey your concern by actively participating in the conversation, adding commentary, and paraphrasing their message back to them to denote understanding.
4) Lack of paraphrasing
Paraphrasing is a great way to show that you’re actively listening. By summarizing the speaker’s key points, you’re verifying that you understand their message.
Bad listeners, on the other hand, don’t paraphrase to confirm their understanding of the speaker’s point, they just assume they already know.
Chances are good this person is distracted by other activities while holding the conversation in question. Multitasking dilutes your efforts in every direction.
5) Unapologetic multitasking
Now that modern tech is just a fact of life, most people believe they can cyber multitask with ease. This is a myth and a real blow to us Type A personalities.
Studies show that the quality of your work done while multitasking is significantly reduced, rather defeating the purpose of multitasking in the first place.
If you’re checking your email or composing a text while responding to the person you’re conversing with, you’re not fully engaged in the discussion.
Put down your phone and activate a few prompts to keep the conventional ball rolling.
6) Please, tell me more
Most appreciate encouraging prompts when they’re telling a story. Just a simple “tell me more”, can indicate your interest and show you’re actively listening.
Good listeners actively offer prompts like “tell me more about that” which ensures the person speaking feels like they’re interesting and understood.
If you’re failing to do this, people may think you’ve mentally checked out of the discussion.
Or are you a buttinsky that tends to derail every conversation you participate in?
7) Always butting in
I’ve heard chronic interrupters referred to as verbal trespassers, and I am so here for it. It just sounds nicer than ‘that clown who monopolizes every conversation.’
Interrupters do not hear the other person out because they assume they already know where the discussion is going and what the other person will say next.
Now, you may intend to demonstrate that you understand the speaker’s problem and can commiserate. You want to be supportive by sharing your similar experience. Solidarity and all that.
However, good listeners will wait until their companion has completely finished speaking before adding their two cents.
Interrupting is almost always perceived as rude and intrusive, but it’s important to remember that some people, particularly neurodivergent people, show their support and understanding by sharing their similar experiences right in that moment.
It’s an attempt at bonding that is often misconstrued as self-absorbed rudeness.
Unintentional interruption can occur when we misread the speaker’s cues. Sometimes interruptions are overlapping supportive statements (“I totally agree!”) or enthusiasm about the subject matter (“That’s awesome!”).
These benign interruptions aren’t considered evidence of poor listening skills, unless they become excessive and distract from the discussion.
However, if you’re derailing the discussion to hijack the conversation, you are engaged in poor listening.
And, if you’re nodding so much you look like you’re headbanging in a mosh pit, you may want to curb that urge before you have a bad case of whiplash and no friends.
8) The bobblehead
Ok, I have to be honest. I’m so guilty of this. Sometimes my ADHD turns my entire inner dialogue into, “You’re completely lost, so just nod and smile, nod and smile,” when I’m trying to follow a conversation.
So, if my nodding noggin’ resembles a bobblehead doll, I’m not trying to be rude, though it certainly can appear that way.
The thing is, I’m being rude by trying not to be rude, a skill many neurospicy types have unintentionally mastered. I’m trying to be attentive and failing miserably, and I look kind of jerky.
Rest assured I’m well aware of this and that I’m indulging in some significant inner self-flagellation.
Steven Keyl, author of “The Human Whisperer” states that over-nodding indicates that the listener is merely trying to maintain the appearance of listening. While this is correct, it’s not always indicative of disinterest, I promise.
And look, I’m making direct eye contact with you. That means I’m hanging in your every word, right?
9) The eye contact conundrum
Too much or too little eye contact may impact how others assess your listening skills.
If you’re scanning the room during a conversation, that’s a pretty clear sign you aren’t listening. It’s rather impolite as well.
There’s a less obvious version of room scanning as well. This is when the listener continually breaks eye contact to peer over the speaker’s shoulder.
Watching someone’s eyeballs bounce around while youre regaling them with your best anecdote is not only distracting, but a bit demoralizing.
I mean, your conversational partner blatantly searching the vicinity for better options isn’t exactly conducive to mutually enjoyable discourse.
Conversely, making too much eye contact is another indicator of poor listening skills.
When people have already checked out of a discussion mentally, they’re still socially conditioned to not look away for fear of hurting the speaker’s feelings. So they overcompensate with excessive eye contact, which can come off as a bit weird.
Something else you could be doing that you’re not even aware of is blinking in triple time. Your blinking rate increases as your interest in the conversation decreases. This is a type of eye-blocking behavior that the listener is almost always unaware they are doing.
Kind of like when you want to beat feet, and those very feet tell on you.
10) Your feet are turned away from the speaker
Another telltale sign of a bad listener is having your feet positioned away from the person speaking, according to Steven Keyl, human behavior expert and author of “The Human Whisperer.”
The feet simply point to where the mind, and probably the body, wants to go, which is far, far, away. This indicator of disinterest appears pretty early in a discussion if the one listening is disengaged.
Listening is a skill, and conversation is comparable to a dance where each partner tries to appear graceful and not step on each other’s toes.
We all make the occasional misstep, but with a little self-awareness and restraint, both partners will get the chance to lead on the floor.