Habits of Listening
In this article, we are going to take a look at what some poor and good listening habits might look like.The more you know about good and poor listening habits, the better you will be able to identify and avoid them.

Listening Habits

Poor Listening Habits

Good Listening Habits

People find the conversation boring and allow that to affect their concentration or lead them to tune the speaker out.

People who are really listening will not allow a subject matter to keep them from paying attention to the key points. They also will make sure they continue paying attention and avoid distractions.

A listener does not pay attention, daydreams, or becomes distracted rather than listening to the person speaking.

A good listener would not fake paying attention or engage in daydreaming. She or he knows the importance of making eye contact and showing interest.

Those speakers who overreact to something they disagree with generally tune the speaker out or just focus on what they want to say in rebuttal.

A good listener that disagrees with the speaker or something the speaker has said will remain calm and wait for an appropriate time to inquire about the point of disagreement.

Poor listening habits would include finding fault with the speaker. Criticizing the speaker may mean that you find fault with the way he or she looks, dresses, or speaks.

Good listening habits include not evaluating speakers on the way they look or trying to find fault with them.

Poor listeners will try to zone in on just the facts that the speaker may make, rather than listening to everything and hearing the support for the facts.

Good listeners will look more at the bigger picture and listen to everything, rather than just nitpicking particular points.

Inappropriate listening includes listening with a closed mind, bias, and/or prejudice regarding the person or topic.

A good listener approaches speakers with an open mind and attitude, showing respect to the speaker.

A poor listener may engage in doodling, checking text messages, making phone calls, snapping gum, or any number of other tasks, when listening should be the focus.

Good listeners will minimize or remove distractions when they know they should be listening. By doing so, they have demonstrated to the speaker that they are attentive and engaged in active listening.

Poor listeners pay no regard to body language when it comes time to listen. They may keep their back to the speaker, avoid eye contact, close their arms as they listen, or even make faces in response to what they are hearing.

Good listeners realize that a good portion of communication is done through nonverbal means and that body language often says much more than words do. Good listeners make sure their body language is open, relaxed, and inviting.

A poor listener would interrupt the speaker to make his or her own point, attack what is being said, etc.

A good listener would wait for an appropriate time to bring up his or her own points or ask questions about what has been said. The listener also would do it in a non-threatening or attacking manner.

Those who multitask as they listen to someone are not demonstrating good listening habits. They may be talking on the phone, looking at their computer, etc.

In order to be a good listener, you have to demonstrate that you are engaged. You should look at the person that is speaking, even if it means stopping your work or whatever else you may be doing.

Poor listeners will let their emotions get the best of them. They may interrupt, attack, or tune out because of them.

Good listeners have a handle on their emotions and will keep them in check in order to listen. When it is time to ask questions, get clarification, or counter a fact, they do so in a respectful manner and try to use "I" statements, rather than "you" ones.

Overcoming the Poor Habits

As we all know, habits may be something that we are used to, but they are also something that we have the ability to change. Most experts believe it takes about three weeks to break a habit. In light of this, make it a conscious goal for the next three to four weeks to try to address any poor listening habits you may have. After you have followed good listening habits for several weeks in a row, you will have overcome the poor habits and replaced them with good ones.

Irritating Listening Habits

We all have habits, whether good or bad. We know that it takes about three weeks or so to break a habit and create a new one, but how does one get started in the first place? Just like Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do. When you continuously do things over and over, they become a habit. That is why, when you are trying to create a new habit, it is important that you perform the desired behavior each day for at least three weeks. That will help get rid of an old habit and replace it with a better one.

When it comes to listening skills, there are some habits that can be quite irritating. Not just irritating to the speaker that you should be listening to, but also to those around you. We all have probably been in a conference, class, or even a movie when someone is not listening attentively, and it is irritating. Whether the person is fidgeting, shaking a leg, or tapping a pen, it can distract the speaker as well as everyone in the area.

Identifying Irritating Habits

Here is an easy way to identify some irritating habits when it comes to listening skills. Make a list of at least five things off the top of your head that you can think of that would annoy or irritate you if someone were doing them while you were speaking. A good rule of thumb is that if a behavior would irritate you, then it will irritate others.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Listening Skills course?

Compare your list to some of these other potentially irritating listening habits:

  1. Interrupting the speaker, for whatever reason.
  2. Looking everywhere but at the person speaking.
  3. Making the speaker feel as though he or she is being rushed or is a bother.
  4. Trying to finish the thoughts of or suggest words for the speaker.
  5. Drilling the speaker with questions about every little detail.
  6. Choosing to not respond when called upon.
  7. Trying to dominate the conversation or top the speaker's story.
  8. Drawing, doodling, pen-tapping, or fidgeting.
  9. Maintaining a blank expression as if you are not actually listening.
  10. Bringing up unrelated topics or stories.
  11. Repeatedly looking at your watch or the clock to see how much longer you have to go before you can stop listening.
  12. Snapping chewing gum or unwrapping candy or food, which makes irritating noises when people are trying to listen.
  13. Answering the cell phone or text messaging.
  14. Faking an expression of paying attention.
  15. Not paying attention to body language, so that the listener may be displaying a closed body language or even one that makes the person appear angry or hostile.
  16. Just not being polite to the speaker and those listening.

All of these are examples of behaviors that may be irritating to a speaker or someone else trying to listen to the speaker. This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are many other things that people could do that would be considered irritating. This is a good start, however, and being able to identify these will help you avoid them and become a better listener.

Engaging in irritating listening habits ends up breaking other people's concentration if there are others listening. It can do the same to the speaker. As well, it is also a sign that you are not paying attention.

A Word about Note-taking
By now you have read several times that while listening you should not be doodling. That does not mean you should never take notes. There are many times when taking notes is not only appropriate but encouraged. You can get a lot out of note-taking, and if you are really taking notes, the speaker likely will be able to distinguish that from merely doodling or not paying attention.

Body Language

Did you realize that the vast majority of communication actually is done in a nonverbal manner? It is true! Oftentimes, it is what we do not verbally say that expresses so much. Body language is the area of communication that is nonverbal. It consists of evaluating someone's gestures, poses, facial expressions, and even eye movements in order to gain a better understanding of what someone is saying, hiding, or how they feel about something.

Having a basic understanding of body language can go a long way toward helping you understand what others are feeling, as well as helping to keep your own in check while listening to others. Body language is just another helpful way to "read" someone. You have probably been reading people's body language since you were a child, knowing when the adults around you were angry, upset, or relaxed, without them needing to say word.

What Body Language Looks Like

Have you ever seen someone using their hands as they speak? That is body language. Other examples include pointing, rolling your eyes in disgust, playing with your hair, crossing your arms, and even putting your hands on your hips. Each of these displays of body language says something about the person who is doing them, as well as how that person may feel about what she or he is listening to.

As a listener, it is important to be aware of the types of body language you may be displaying. If, for example, you are in a conference or meeting and listening to someone speak and you put your elbow on the desk and lean your head up against your hand, as if you are holding your head up, it may appear that you are bored. If you are sitting in your chair or standing and have your arms folded across your chest, it may appear as though you are closed off or against what you are listening to.

When we listen to someone, there is so much more to it than just the words that come out of the speaker's mouth and go into our ears. A good exercise is to purposely observe this in action. For the next day or so, pay attention to the nonverbal communication that you see taking place around you. Pick up on as much of it as you can and see what it helps you determine about the speaker and what is being said.

Common Examples of Body Language

Here are some of the most common signs of body language that you are likely to come across or even engage in, along with the usual interpretation of such actions. While they may not be set in stone, they are general interpretations that hold true for the majority of people.



Walking tall and briskly means ...

the person is confident.

Standing with both hands on the hips is seen as ...

a sign of aggression.

Sitting with the legs crossed and kicking one leg back and forth suggests ...

the person is bored.

Sitting down with the legs apart or comfortable means ...

the person is relaxed and open.

Arms crossed over chest suggests ...

the person is on the defense or closed off.

Walking slumped over with hands in the pockets means ...

the person is sad.

Having a hand on the cheek means ...

the person is thinking or evaluating something.

Touching or rubbing the nose is ...

a sign of lying or doubt.

Rubbing the eye is ...

a sign of disbelief.

Clasping the hands behind the back shows that ...

the person is angry or frustrated.

Locking the ankles together while sitting down means ...

the person is nervous.

Resting head in hands and looking down indicates ...

the person is bored.

Hand-rubbing can be ...

a sign of eagerness.

Sitting with legs crossed and the hands clasped behind the person's head is seen as ...

a sign of confidence or feeling superior.

Open hands or palms indicate ...

the person is open.

Tapping the fingers on the table ...

the person is impatient.

Playing with the hair suggests ...

the person feels insecure.

Tilting the head indicates ...

the listerner is interested.

Using the hand to stroke the chin means ...

the person is trying to make a decision.

Looking down and turning the face away shows ...

the listener is in disbelief.

Biting the nails or skin around nails indicates ...

the person is nervous.

Pulling the ear means ...

the person is showing indecision.

Body Language as the Listener

As a listener, you can use body language cues in two ways. First, it is helpful in learning more about what the speaker is trying to communicate. As a listener, you can pick up on how the speaker feels about the subject matter. Also, as a listener, you can use body language to make sure you are displaying the type of nonverbal communication that you intend.

Keep in mind that there always are going to be exceptions to these body language gestures. Some people may be in wheelchairs, using crutches, or have other such issues that may keep them from doing certain things and prompt them to do others. However, this information applies to most people, especially those without such issues.