10 Worst Listening Habits and How to Fix Them

May 15, 2024
Woman in teal dress shirt sits near wall with a look of displeasure listening to someone else talk.

Poor listening isn't just a struggle; it's a costly problem.

Misunderstandings and miscommunications due to bad listening habits can cost organizations billions annually in lost productivity, errors, and missed opportunities. Poor listening strains relationships, fuels conflicts, and hampers collaboration, impacting overall effectiveness. The toll on mental health and wellbeing can lead to stress, frustration, and decreased satisfaction in both personal and professional relationships.

What’s Contributing to the Listening Challenge?

Nicols and Stevens highlighted 10 of the worst listening habits in their 1957 book, Are You Listening?, and they're still relevant today (modified for today's modern reader): 

  1. Assuming the Topic is Boring
    Judging a subject as uninteresting before giving it a chance.
  2. Judging the Speaker's Delivery or Appearance
    Letting a speaker's style or look distract from their message.
  3. Getting Too Excited
    Formulating counterarguments before the speaker finishes. 

  4. Listening Only for Facts
    Missing the bigger picture by focusing solely on details.
  5. Trying to Outline Everything
    Focusing on note-taking instead of understanding the meaning.
  6. Faking Attention
    Pretending to listen when you're actually tuned out. 

  7. Creating or Tolerating Distractions
    Allowing interruptions like side conversations or noises.
  8. Avoiding Difficult Topics
    Shying away from complex issues instead of embracing them as learning opportunities.
  9. Reacting to Emotional Words
    Getting triggered by certain words, like political labels, which distracts from the message.
  10. Wasting Thought Power
    Letting your mind wander instead of staying engaged. For instance, planning your lunch or Instacart order while someone else is talking.

The Listening Opportunity

Imagine if executives and managers could mitigate the financial impact of poor listening—they'd have billions more to allocate elsewhere. Investing in improving listening skills can yield significant returns by enhancing communication, building stronger connections, and reducing misunderstandings.

How to Become a Better Listener

Learning to:

  • Listen with an Open Mind and Heart
    Be genuinely curious about others' ideas and experiences.

  • Empathize with Others
    Understand situations from different perspectives.

  • Embrace New Possibilities
    Stay open to new ideas and outcomes.

Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres emphasize, “When we are aware and able to choose to foster conversations worth having, listening deeply comes more naturally. Our questions are authentic. We are genuinely curious about the other person, interested in learning and understanding that person’s ideas and experiences, so we listen with an open mind and heart. We are interested in finding ways to achieve optimal outcomes, so we listen willing to entertain new ideas and possibilities. Engaging in such conversations comes down to our capacity to be intentional, to be in the driver’s seat” (Stavros & Torres, 2022, p. 58). 

Transform Your Conversations

The power of meaningful dialogue transcends time and technology, offering the potential to transform relationships and organizations. Looking to develop richer, more empathetic communication? Check out Chapter 3 in Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement (2nd ed.).

Invest in your listening skills today for a more connected and effective tomorrow!

Find the training that's right for you! 


Shared by: 
Kelly Stewart , a certified Conversations Worth Having trainer and co-founder of the CWH Institute, Inc. One of the many life lessons my Dad has shared is that everything must pass "the test of reasonableness." It seems reasonable to me that making a relatively small professional development or training investment in helping others (and ourselves) develop habits that allow us to listen better is an investment worth making. What difference might it make in your life? 

Nichols, R. G., & Stevens, L. A. (1957). Are You Listening? McGraw-Hill. https://www.amazon.com/Are-You-Listening-ralph-nichols/dp/0070464758

Stavros, J., & Torres, C. (2022). Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Photo by Christina Morillo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-teal-dress-shirt-sits-near-wall-1181426/



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