How To Know If You're A Bad Listener & How To Fix That, From A Therapist
Most of us like to think of ourselves as decent listeners, but the reality is, we all can slip up on this from time to time—especially when we're in an argument.
So, how can you tell if you're kinda being a bad listener in a heated conversation?
The big sign that you're not listening well.
A good listener is able to be totally present and focused while the other person is talking. "We can be present by listening and resisting the temptation to interpret, assume, predict, or come up with a reply while the person is still talking," licensed therapist Steph Tuazon, LCSW, recently told mbg.
To Tuazon's point, you can tell you're not actually listening to the other person if, while they're talking, you're also thinking about what you want to say in response. If you're in your head analyzing their words as they're still speaking—or worse, trying to interrupt them to insert your own comments—that's a big sign that you're not listening well.
Why? Because your focus is actually on getting your own point across (or proving your point right, or proving your partner's point wrong) rather than actually understanding what's being said to you and making sure the speaker feels understood—the biggest marks of a good listener.
To know if you truly understand your partner's point, Tuazon suggests trying to repeat back what you heard right after they finish speaking. If you can't repeat what they said accurately, then you weren't actually listening.
Another great test for you: After a tense conversation or argument with your partner (or whoever), see if you can accurately explain their perspective to another person—importantly, without your judgment, interpretation, or opinions inserted into it. Why were they upset? What did they actually say in response to specific things you brought up?
"Not being present in a conversation can look like missing a whole conversation," she notes. If you can't really give a play-by-play of their side of the conversation, that's a clear sign that you didn't really understand or internalize what they said—in other words, your listening skills could probably use some work.
How to be a better listener.
If you've done any of the above before, don't beat yourself up—we all fail to listen well from time to time, and it's all the more likely when we're upset and not feeling heard ourselves.
"This is a very normal human thing to do," Tuazon notes. "If that's the case, take accountability for it and see what the other person may need for repair."
Going forward, focus on being fully present while the other person is speaking. "This could mean physically moving bodies to face each other or making eye contact," she says.
If you notice your mind wandering over to think about how you feel about what is being said or what you want to say next, gently guide your attention back to the speaker. Stretch to really internalize what they're trying to express and how they feel.
"Listening can also mean asking someone a follow-up question or repeating back what you heard to see if you understand," Tuazon adds.
(Here's our full guide to active listening for more tips.)
If, while someone is talking, you're actively thinking about what you're going to say next, you may be hearing the person in front of you—but you are not listening.
Listening is an active process, and it's not something you can do while mentally multitasking. If you want to be a better listener, clear your mind while someone is speaking to you and place your full focus on trying to internalize their perspective and feelings.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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