Want to be a Great Listener? Don’t Do This!

Just as important as knowing how to be a great listener, is knowing what not to do. In spite of good intentions, we may say or do things that bring communication to a screeching halt.

1. AVOIDANCE – Consciously and unconsciously people give clues when they want to talk about something. If we don’t have time or interest, we ignore the signs. Or we might say the right words – “Is something bothering you?” –  but continue reading or watching television.

Another means of avoidance is brushing off the speaker’s feelings: “You’re not depressed, just tired. Get a good sleep, you’ll feel better.”

2. INTERRUPTION – is one of most common communication mistakes. Interrupting people when they are talking is like a slap in the face. It invalidates one’s value and importance. Yet we’re all guilty of it.

We interrupt when we…

are more interested in ourselves than the other person;
think what we have to say is more important;
assume what the other person is going to say and don’t let them finish;
exhibit domination and control.

3. COMPARING – the speaker’s experience to our own hijacks the conversation and puts the focus on us. Going one better upstages the speaker: “You think that’s bad. Wait till you hear what happened to me.” Comparing says, “Enough about you. Let’s talk about me.”

4. HUMOR – is most often used when the listener is man-160809_640uncomfortable with the conversation. He guides it off track by making light of a situation. It’s degrading and embarrassing when something we are serious or upset about is the object of jest. The last thing we want to do is share our feelings with that person.

5. REASSURANCE – would appear to be kind and sympathetic but it stops further conversation.  If we tell someone, “Don’t worry. It will be all right,” we are dismissing their problem and concerns.  comfort-536896_640When we offer praise saying, “I’m sure you didn’t do anything wrong,” we are  discouraging people from exploring their feelings or dealing with a problem.

6. CRITICISM – It is absolutely useless to tell someone how they could have avoided a problem. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, what should or shouldn’t have been done. The issue is how to deal with it in the present.

No matter how you dress it up, criticism offends people, lowers self-esteem & causes withdrawal. Critics assume a superior position. The speaker is put on the defensive and shuts down. When we try to put a helpful spin on criticism and blame, we call it…

psychologist-1015488_6407. ANALYZING – We may not realize it but we’re moralizing, being self-righteous. Focusing on the past instead of the present, dredging up old news, can make the speaker feel guilty. If our goal is to help, focus on the present unless the speaker brings up the past.

It doesn’t take a giant leap for the critic to issue…

8. ORDERS –  like “This is what you have do…!” or warnings: “If you don’t take care of this fast, you’ll be in for a lot of trouble.” Such statements arouse fear and angerjudge-146626_640

This happens when listener is personally involved and is affected by the situation. The focus shifts to self. We become anxious, defensive, can no longer be objective. Emotion takes over, logic is lost, arguments result. Be honest with yourself when this happens. Step away, let emotions settle down.



When we do any of these things, we are no longer listening, able to be helpful.

A great listener
Provides a safe space for a speaker to vent feelings.
Makes speaker feel valued, respected, understood.
Helps speaker clarify thoughts and resolve problems.


People are fragile. Emotions are tender. It is less important to solve problems than deal with the emotions they bring up. The emotions, not the problem, are what cause stress and interfere with problem-solving. 

Who would you go to if you had a problem?  Someone you know would truly listen, care, understand and support you. Hopefully, you have someone like that in your life. And hopefully, you are that person for someone.

Everything You Need to Know to be a Great Listener

“Do you talk to each other?” a marriage counselor asked a couple who came for help with their relationship. “Oh, yes, we talk to each other all the time,” the wife replied. “The problem is listening to each other.”


Communication literally means to share, unite, have a common experience. It is the bridge that connects people and listening is one of the building blocks. 

Hearing is not the same as listening. Hearing is the ability to absorb sound. Listening is the ability to interpret meaning. Correctly. Three older gentlemen were sitting the park. “It’s windy,” said the first. “No,” replied the second, “it’s Thursday.” “Me too,” said the third, “let’s get a drink.”

Not everything we hear requires in-depth listening, but if the goal is to learn, understand or connect, listening is essential. 

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand & be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Ralph Nichols


grid-725269_640Recognizes and validates the speaker.
Enlightens and educates.
Diminishes conflict and hostility.
Builds and strengthens relationships.


COMMITMENT – Listening requires total involvement.

SELFLESSNESS – A clear mind. Personal needs are put aside. 

CONCENTRATION – Focus on the person and present moment.  

INTEREST – Sincere desire to understand. Eye contact, nodding and leaning forward show interest. 

OPEN-MINDED – Non-judgmental, objective. Seeks to understand not necessarily agree. 

The mindset of a good listener enables the speaker to feel safe, be completely open and honest. 

Since words account for only 7% of communication a good listener also needs to…


Words can be misleading but body lsherlock-holmes-462957_640 (1)anguage, facial expression, tone of voice, and the vibes we unconsciously project are not. To really know a person, we must tune into the whole presence. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said…

What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.  

DISCERN – emotions behind the words. Be sensitive to changes in expression, voice tone.

BE PATIENT – Don’t assume, jump to conclusions. 

We are capable of listening at about four times the rate at which people talk. It’s tempting to jump to conclusions, cut in and finish a sentence, or get impatient and say, “you already told me that.” The speaker will repeat main issues or things he most wants you to understand.

PAY ATTENTION – We’re easily distracted and if we’re not careful, attention will wander. But if you take the attitude of a detective, you will be able to stay focused. Look for hidden clues in the position of the body, changing facial expressions or tone of voice. Business guru Peter Drucker said…

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.


Paying attention doesn’t guarantee we won’t misinterpret.  If we fail to understand what was actually said, communication can get way off track. Sixth grade students who had not heard correctly wrote these answers to exam questions…

Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper.

That’s why we need to clarify what we hear! The basic clarification tools are repetition & questions. They keep speaker and listener on the same page. Use them to make sure you  interpreted correctly or to clear up confusion.  

REPETITION – restates, paraphrases, summarizes what listener heard. It allows speaker to correct if necessary or explain in greater detail.

QUESTIONS – are used to evoke more information, avoid confusion and better understand what was said.


SPEAKER: I’m really out of it today.

LISTENER: You’re feeling out of it. Are you tired? Maybe you’re coming down with something.

SPEAKER: No, that’s not it. I just keep making mistakes. My head is someplace else.

LISTENER: Oh, you’re feeling out of it mentally. Are you worried about something?

SPEAKER: No. I’m just not paying attention to what I’m doing. Maybe I’m bored. Yeah, that’s the problem. But I can’t quit this job. What am I going to do?

There are several places in this conversation where speaker and listener could have parted ways. Repetition and questions helped both listener and speaker discern the underlying problem.

If, at some point, the speaker feels stuck, doesn’t know how to proceed, it is appropriate to offer…

SUGGESTIONS – pose questions or present alternatives meant to help the speaker discern what s/he wants to do. Be careful not to voice suggestions as orders or directions or shoulds. 

The goal of a good listener is to help people express their thoughts and emotions so they can better understand themselves and their problems, make their own decisions and resolve their difficulties. That is how people build confidence and self-esteem. If you solve other people’s problems, you run the risk of: 

1. BEING WRONG – They can blame and resent you because you told them what to do and it didn’t work.

2. BEING RIGHT – They will repeatedly rely on you to tell them what to do. 

These are skills to be used in serious conversations. In a simple exchange: “What time do you want to have dinner?” you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and give the speaker your undivided attention. During water cooler banter or a comment about the weather, it would be inappropriate if not utterly foolish to use these skills.


Listening is a gift we can offer one another. Really listen to people and they open up like a flower, reveal themselves to you, virtually come alive before your eyes. We receive the gift of communion – common union. 

NEXT WEEK: Want to be a Great Listener? Don’t Do This!

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Jealousy and Envy: Roadblocks to Happiness and Success

Jealousy and envy are frequently confused. While they often go hand in hand, jealousy involves 3 parties, and envy involves 2.

Jealousy: A third party, a rival, is competing for, stealing something that is or should have been mine.

Envy: I want what another has.

They both involve stealing. 
Jealousy = you are stealing from me.

Envy = I want to steal from you.

First, we’ll look at the green-eyed monster…


Did you ever try to pet one dog when another is ineye-149673_640 the same room? Dog #2 runs over, tries to push Dog #1 out of the way, capture your attention and guide your hands onto his furry coat. The second dog sees the first dog as having what he wants and tries to take it away. That’s jealousy. It’s a natural instinct in human beings as well as animals.

Jealousy makes us respond like Dog #2. We resent people who take attention away from us. We try to push them out of  the way and recapture what we think is or should be ours.

Jealousy is a common reaction….

In a family, when one sibling receives more attention than another.

In a couple, when one partner exhibits interest in someone else.

In the workplace, when someone is more popular, receives more approval or a promotion we think should be ours.

We’ve all experienced jealousy at one time or another. It is a dangerous brew of fear, insecurity and inferiority that  sparks feelings of anger, resentment and hatred. Jealousy is a destructive emotion and leads to destructive actions. Murders have been committed by people in a jealous rage. Jealousy can also be deadly to the person experiencing it, leading to suicide.

The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves. William Penn

Jealousy is inevitable when self-worth, security and happiness depend on someone or something outside us. It resonates painful feelings of failure and insufficiency. We imagine all will be well if we can only fix the outside picture, but the inside causes remain.

The problem is within, not without. 

Jealous people are suspicious, possessive, demanding and controlling, the very things that drive others away. 


money-1015277_640Envy describes the feeling we have when someone has what we wish we had. Envy is aroused by people who are living a life we would like to have. They appear smarter, more attractive, richer, happier, more successful than we are. 

Insecurity and unhappiness drive us to covet what another has. We have probably all felt it at one time or another. We all feel incomplete in some way; not quite good enough. That feeling can make us strive to improve ourselves, learn, grow, explore and achieve. But it can also give rise to envy. Envy shines a spotlight on our inadequacy and increases feelings of inferiority. As with jealousy, envy puts the focus on what we lack.

FOCUS OF ATTENTION CREATES. The more we envy others, the more deficient we feel.

Rather than striving to burglar-157142_640accomplish what we desire, we would like to steal it from someone else. When we envy people, we harbor resentment and wish them ill – subconsciously if not consciously. We entertain visions of their downfall. Then their well-being would cease to resonate our feelings of lack and inferiority. We might even get to feel superior – for a little while at least.

The Germans have a word for taking pleasure in another’s misfortune: schadenfreude. Schaden means harm and freude means joy.  Who doesn’t take a bit of guilty pleasure in seeing famous people fall from their pedestal? Or someone ‘too big for his britches’ get ‘cut down to size’? We try to justify our feelings by saying, “S/he got what s/he deserved.” Such attitudes spark shame and guilt, making us more hostile and resentful. Envy diminishes us. It keeps us stuck in a negative mindset and blocks the path to change. 

“Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn’t that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you.” Marilyn Monroe

We can use envy to grow. It shows us what is missing in our lives. It highlights a goal worth striving for. The positive flip side of envy is admiration. A student admires a teacher. An apprentice admires a mentor. Children admire parents and role models. Admiration creates a bridge between people rather than a wall. Admiring others can inspire us to learn and grow, perhaps accomplish what they have achieved.

Jealousy and envy have negative biochemical effects on the body and brain. They can lead to self-pity, anger and depression. Happiness and success do not abide where jealousy and envy dwell.