Listening is a lost art and an under-appreciated practice. Most people prefer to talk. And living in a world full of mindless chatter makes everyone feel unheard.
The reason most people don’t feel appreciated is due to poor communication. More specifically, people are often so absorbed with their own thoughts that they fail to listen. To truly, deeply, and effectively listen to someone else.
And it’s easy to tell when people aren’t listening. Typically, you leave these exchanges feeling unfulfilled or angry, sad, and/or disappointed. These unsatisfactory interactions offer little value to either party and occur all too often.
In America, the fast-paced and work-focused culture creates an underlying anxiety–a fear that we don’t have enough time to accomplish our lofty goals. And in truth, we don’t–blink and it’s all over–but that’s another story.
The point is that because most people feel pressured to perform quickly, they miss what’s right in front of them. They become consumed with their own thoughts at the expense of other people’s emotional wellbeing. Often, this isn’t intentional.
Most individuals have terrible listening habits. Without knowing it, they are actively making their loved ones, their friends, and their coworkers feel undervalued, which creates an exhausting cycle of rupture and repair in which communication fails then improves, then fails again.
Improving your listening will decrease the severity of communication breakdowns. It will help others feel more understood and valued in your presence. And doing so has the additional benefit of demonstrating to others how you’d like them to communicate with you.
To improve your listening, avoid the three things listed below. Similarly, if you want to know if someone is not listening to you, look for these three subtle signs:
1. Evaluating what the other person is saying.
When someone is evaluating what you’re saying rather than listening, you sense their emotional distance–it feels like they’re somewhere else. You’re speaking but your words aren’t landing, which leaves you feeling like there’s something missing from the interaction.
And if you’re dissecting what someone is saying, then you’re not listening. You heard a few key words and phrases and then shut off your ears and turned on your ego. Stop that. If you want to be a better listener, then keep your analytical brain off until the other person is done talking.
2. Formulating your own opinion about what the other person said.
When someone is formulating their own opinion rather than listening to you, it makes you feel misunderstood and unappreciated. They typically provide quick counterpoints to your assertions, try to show you how you’re wrong, or pinpoint one specific thing you said and take it out of context. All of those things send clear messages that your opinion isn’t valued.
If you’re formulating your own opinion, then there’s no room to take in the other person’s message. Your mind is moving so fast that your emotions are failing to join the other person while they’re speaking. And that prevents both of you from leaving the exchange feeling fulfilled.
3. Waiting for the other person to stop talking so that you can share your opinion.
This is the point of no return. When you’re talking and the other person is simply waiting to share their ideas, your emotions start to turn from neutral to frustration, anger, or disappointment. Your intuition can sense that you just wasted your breath on someone who didn’t care about you.
If you’re simply waiting to talk, then you’re sabotaging opportunities for mutual connection out of your own needs to feel important. That’s selfish and actually prevents both of you from feeling understood.
When you are practicing poor listening habits, you inadvertently contribute to others not listening to you in the way you’d prefer. Through your unsatisfactory interactions, fast counter arguments, and “gotcha” mentality, you make others feel disconnected.
Disconnection creates unhappiness. It elicits feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, and fear in the speaker. And when you make people feel those strong emotions, it always finds a way to come back around into your life. So if you want to break the cycle, start refining your listening.
Stop evaluating what the other person is saying, formulating your own opinion, and eagerly waiting to share your opinion. Avoiding those three things will improve your relationships and streamline authentic communication.
Over time, you’ll develop the art of helping others (and yourself) feel valued, appreciated, and understood.