Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Listener

I am paid to communicate all day long. I studied communication in college, in graduate school, in continuing education courses. I’ve taught courses in communication. But I have to admit something.

I am a terrible listener.

I'm so terrible at listening that I made a happiness commandment to focus on it. #8 - Really Listen.

I love to talk. I have a lot to say. I think I’m sort of insightful about a lot of things, and I know a lot of interesting stuff to contribute to conversations. My husband says I tend to interrupt. (I agree—it’s true!) I also sometimes try to finish people’s sentences for them. More than sometimes. Often. Okay, frequently. OK, a heck of a lot.


I find that sometimes when I’ve asked my husband about his day, I suddenly tune out and have no idea what he just said to me. It’s not that I’m not interested…it’s just that my brain suddenly stopped focusing. These are the times when I say, “Oh, really?” at a really awkward time in the conversation, and my husband knows immediately that he’s lost me and just shakes his head at his wife, the terrible horrible no good very bad listener.

But….. identifying the problem is half the battle, right? I know I’m a bad listener, and I’m working on it. I find that I can’t multitask and listen well. I can’t be typing an evaluation report while I’m listening to my husband tell me about his day. My brain just can’t handle the competing stimuli. So, I have to decide when I want to listen and ONLY listen. This is hard to do when you’re crazy busy. But it must be done. Which takes me back to good old happiness commandment #3 –Do what needs to be done. (I told you, that one is brilliant!)

What helps you tune in and pay attention to those you care about?


  1. See, Jeff and I have this argument ALL THE TIME! He says I "interrupt" when I say I'm "actively-listening." To be fair to me, I have to say that he considers "uh-huh" an interruption. When YOU and I talk, and you finish my sentences, and I finish your sentences, we are tickled that we're finishing each other's sentences! Heck, that's like a new fun conversation! "We know each other so well, let's do it some more!" But when I finish HIS sentences, he thinks I'm rushing him - not seeing that I know him very well and that I'm so attuned to the story, that I'm actively participating in the story-telling! If I DON'T actively listen, then I too tune out. Or worse, I don't tune out, but I feel like it sounds like I'm tuning out. I think this should be addressed to the people who brought us such gems as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus...

  2. That's true...I never thought about how it works for us, and seems fun! Maybe it is a gender difference thing. How funny!