Dear Ally,

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Listening Skills

Dear Ally,

Last week I basically shared how to shut down or avoid an endless conversation, but what if the person is saying something important and you need to pay attention or what if it’s someone you care about and you want them to feel heard?

If so, don’t be like these bad listeners:

  • Absorbed in technology. This person is wearing earbuds and constantly looking at a screen. Good if you don’t want to be bothered on the bus, bad if you’re supposed to be listening to instructions.
  • The mind reader. You are passionately making your case and they say, “What are you so mad about?” Don’t jump to conclusions, instead just observe the data and make statements like, “I am noticing that you are raising your voice. How should I interpret that?” (Because remember, loud doesn’t always mean angry.) On the other hand, don’t ignore non-verbal cues that contradict what they’re saying. Show you care by asking how they feel, for example, “You’re saying you’re fine, but your eyes are telling me a different story. Is there something you want to talk about?”
  • The advice giver. A grad school friend of mine imparted this wisdom to me: “Women don’t want advice, they want you to just listen, because when you jump in with advice, they interpret this as ‘Bitch, do I have to solve all your problems?'” He’s exactly right and it’s not just women.
  • The busy beaver. They pretend to listen, but never look up from the computer screen. Even if it’s a time vampire, at least stop what you’re doing and tell them you’re busy and suggest they come back later when you can give them your full attention. It’s more polite than pretending to listen and might actually be a better tactic to get back to work faster.
  • The one-upper. You tell a story, they tell a better story. Something bad happened to you, something horrible happened to them. They’re not listening, they’re taking your moment and turning it around and making it about them – but they think they’re being a good listening by sharing a similar experience. Guilty? I know I am. The term for this is match back and it makes people feel like they don’t matter.
  • The daydreamer. It happens in class and in meetings, it can even happen on the phone. Taking notes or doodling can help. If you missed the last minute of what was said, be honest and admit it instead of pretending like you heard, which can lead to miscommunication or missed questions on the exam.
  • The interrupter. Some of these people think they’re good listeners because they’re interrupting with questions, others are simply rude. Don’t be these people or the over-talker, which is even worse.
  • The rehearser. You’re in a group discussion or an interview and your turn to speak is coming up, you didn’t hear anything that was said just before and maybe you’re about to make the same point as someone else or you didn’t hear the entire question. It’s impossible to rehearse and listen at the same time, but it’s hard not to rehearse, especially if you’re anxious about speaking. Focus on what’s being said and try to picture what they are talking about. If it’s a class discussion, perhaps quickly write down your response or ask the instructor to give everyone a minute to gather their thoughts.

Listening is a skill, so use every conversation as an opportunity to practice.

Have a great week!

Aunt Sarah



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