How Not to Listen

(This post is the second post in a three-part series on Listening.)

If you haven’t read the first post on listening, I suggest you do so first. It covers what listening is and why it matters now more than ever.

Before we talk about the right ways of listening in the next post, let’s first discuss the wrong ways of listening:

  • Evaluative Listening:
    This is where we’ve already made a judgement as to whether we agree or disagree about the topic in question; we’re listening by evaluating others. For instance, this is where your boss has already decided what he’s going to do or not do something regardless of what you have to say about it.

  • Interrogative Listening:
    This is where we’re interrogating or probing the other person out of mistrust with reference to our own life experience and viewpoints. You’re asking questions, and you’ve almost made a judgement in your mind; there is little room to have the other person convince you otherwise.

  • Advise Listening:
    This is where we’re giving others opinions based on our experiences about what the other person should be doing in their situation without listening to what they have to say. This also includes interrupting them midway by completing their sentences for them and doing their thinking for them.

I know personally I tend to practice Advise Listening especially when the other person is emotionally charged with negative emotion, because it’s challenging for me to listen to negativity, let alone be around it. Also, it’s hard to resist not advising them in the moment when you feel compelled to do so. To overcome this challenge, my friend Sheeba Nair advised the following:

Silence/minimal acknowledgment allows the person to share without inhibition and also conveys your unconditional acceptance for the person. It calms them finally. Isn’t that our goal?

When apt and based on need, reflecting their deeper emotions — empathizing, makes them feel understood, and helps be aware and introspect.

There is a time to teach and there is a time NOT to teach. When the opposite person is emotionally charged, it’s surely the latter.

  • Interpretive Listening:
    This is where we start judging the other person and start interpreting the motives behind what they are telling us as well as their behavior towards us, with reference to our motives and/or behavior.

Practicing these methods of listening makes it difficult for us to listen to others.

The following are the lower levels of listening that we tend to practice most in our everyday lives. As we go from Forbid to Ignore to Pretend (more below), and so on and so forth, our level of listening increases. I’ll cover the higher levels in the next post.

  • Forbid Listening:
    This is where we’re not listening and dismissing the other person outright. We’re not even allowing them to speak.

  • Ignore Listening:
    This is where we’re ignoring what the other person is telling us. For instance, when we ignore homeless people at a traffic light.

  • Pretend Listening:
    This is where we’re pretending to listen, but we aren’t actually listening, such as thinking about something else while physically present with others. This is when we nod our heads to others and pretend to listen in order to appear polite and to avoid hurting them.

  • Selective Listening:
    This method involves listening selectively as we only pay attention to things that interest us, and space out on the rest.

  • Attentive Listening:
    Attentive listening is paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said. Attentive listening is a good place to start, which may or may not lead to empathic listening. At the very least, you want to be listening attentively.

There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is not listening. Hearing happens with the help of ears. Listening requires us to use our eyes, brain, and heart. The act of hearing is limited only to hearing voices. With listening, the analysis and interpretation of the voice is included. Hearing happens naturally by default. Listening requires us to proactively learn and develop the listening skill. Hearing requires no connection with the character of the person. Listening is only possible if the person is of high character.

Everyone struggles with listening because it is difficult. It’s a lifelong skill that we never master, though with consistent practice, we can get better at it. In the next (final) post, I cover the right ways of listening along with some best practices.

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