As I continue to explore what it means to be a good listener, I find as with most new endeavors, it's easier to identify what *NOT* to do than what to do. So here's some things NOT to do when trying to listen:
1) Search for the exit.
Sometimes listening is painful. You'd rather stick your finger up your nose, dig out a booger and flick it into the speaker's face than have them say another word. So you distract yourself. Either with technology (break out the phone or tablet!) or the picture show of your mind (this is the perfect time to rehash the intricacies of last night's episode of <insert fav TV show>. But resist this urge. If you are distracted, you aren't listening. Commit to the moment and give the person your full attention.
2) Make it about you.
No one likes a topper. I could make a joke about bottoms right now, but let's not get distracted (Rule #1!). When you trying to convey something awesome to a person, only to have them break in with their own experiences, interpretations, or god forbid, offer advice, it's clear that they think they are the most important part of the conversation. Reversely, (it's a word!), if you want the other person to feel like they are important, just listen without breaking in to superimpose yourself in the conversation. You're basically saying Me! Me! Me! which is pretty damn annoying...
3) Look for a problem.
People who listen only to find problems are half-listeners. They hear most of what you say, but they are really only searching for those triggers that suggest there is a problem they can solve. As with "make it about you", this is when the ego is active in the conversation. The person is trying to feel helpful and important but it's seriously limiting their listening skills.
S: "I've been searching for apartments and...
L: "Oh yeah, apartment searching is wretched. You know what you should do? Get on craigslist and..."
S: I keep getting these headaches. I think I'm drinking too much caffeine. Maybe I should cut back for a week and see if that helps. Have you ever done that? Did it work?
L: You know what you should do? Lavender oil! I love that shit. I rub it on everything. I bet it will help caffeine headaches too.
In both cases, the listener only took away a small portion what was said and in fact, were less helpful than if they had been actually listening.
4) Interrupt them while they're speaking.
Interrupting is another way of saying you couldn't care less and are definitely not listening. You might as well just say "so you're boring the hell out of me right now and I've just been thinking about other stuff to entertain myself and I want to talk about that stuff instead." K! Thanks!
And definitely not listening.
5) Become defensive.
Sometimes in conversation, criticism happens. And while no one likes to be criticized, it's important to note that our default reaction is to become defensive and argue on our behalf. However, you can't listen AND defend. So if at all possible, try to detach emotionally and listen to the criticism. It helps me to pretend they are criticizing someone else--not me. That way, even if it is being poorly delivered, if there is something valuable and constructive in the remarks I can take that away from the conversation.
6) Listen--only to form counterarguments.
If we hear something we don't like or agree with, immediately want to refute the claim. This may not be about us (as in example 5) but about broader ideas, topics, events, etc. And so when people express opinions different than our own, we are very quick to try and prove why they are wrong to believe so. However, the moment you begin to reject their ideas and form your counterargument is the moment you stop listening. This means you might miss whole sections (very important sections of their argument) and launch a disagreement that wasn't even necessary.
7) Become a zealot.
I'm going to tell you straight up, I'm guilty of this. Every time I discover some awesome new thing, I tend to sing its praises from the mountain tops. Listening has been no different. Thankfully, I have not yet grabbed any of my friends, shaken them, and declared them to be bad listeners (yet), but the urge is strong!
The problem is that the more I study listening, the more I practice listening, the more I realize how absolutely terrible people are at it, which automatically provokes a strong reaction in certain contexts.
But hopefully, I'll *let go* (last month's power still hard at work! ;) of this impulse and see the value of observing rather than correcting.