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The Subtle Sign That You’re A Bad Listener In Relationships (& How To Fix That)

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 repeating back what you heard right after they finished 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.)


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The takeaway.

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 multi-tasking. 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.


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