Why Are Some People Such Bad Listeners?

Empathy can get you places. Most of us know that when you’re able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, the quality of your relationships at work and home will improve. The subsequent ripple effect on your personal and professional success is enormous.

It’s a deceptively simple concept. We say “deceptively” here because it necessitates listening, which is hard to do. In fact, most people who are bad listeners probably think they’re good at it, especially if they’re in leadership positions.


At some point, you’ve probably worked for someone who automatically regarded her opinion as the most well-informed one in every situation. (Or maybe you’re that person yourself.) The reality, though, was just that no one bothered (or dared) to provide contrary opinions.

Similarly, just having an open door policy in the workplace is not in itself an indication of effective listening. If people feel that you’re only listening to them because you want to prove them wrong or exert yourself, they’re not going to walk through that open door.


It’s actually mind-boggling how a person could have such a positive view of themselves when the reality is the opposite; you might not even be aware that you’re a bad listener yourself. Here a few reasons why it’s so difficult to stop talking and just listen.

P.S. Build your listening skills and position yourself to help provide value for everyone around you; sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on communicating and relating effectively in the workplace today!


1. The ego gets in the way

Listening requires you to prioritise the needs of others above your own. It necessitates that you enter into a conversation wanting to know where the other person is coming from, and not just wanting to make yourself heard at all costs.


If you don’t do this, you’re starting with the wrong intentions for paying attention in the first place. When you start on the wrong footing, you’re paving the way for all sorts of dire miscommunications.

Starting a discussion with the pre-conception that you know best and that your opinion is always right can be destructive, plain judgmental, and almost always makes genuine mutual agreement much more complicated than it needs to be.


2. They’re not prioritising learning

In a similar vein, people who fail to listen well often don’t think there’s anything to be gained from it in the first place. In other words, they don’t perceive that there’s anything to be learned from the other person in any shape or form.


Even if they do, they tend to deem it unimportant or unnecessary relative to their own concerns.

Conversely, those who realise that there’s something to be learned from everyone and in every situation are often more willing and able to pay attention to what the other person is saying.


3. They don’t practice careful consideration

Irrespective of the size of their egos, some people are just brash. In some cases, what seems like a disproportionate ego is actually the exact opposite; it might that they refuse to listen because they’re trying to compensate for low self-esteem by exerting themselves excessively over others.

For that reason, they tend to prefer being listened to instead of doing the listening. Hence, they’re also generally likelier to:

  • Keep interrupting others while they speak
  • Jump to conclusions before hearing the whole story
  • Condescend to others
  • Be presumptive and prematurely dismissive without fair reason




4. They think of listening as a passive activity

Sometimes, it’s not because people can’t put their egos aside; it’s that they can’t concentrate properly. Given the number of distractions we’re subject to every day, it’s not difficult to fathom that some people can’t sit still long enough to have a proper discussion without reaching for their phones, doodling on some rough paper, or straight up just tuning out.


If this sounds like you, then you need to, first of all, figure out a way to stop being constantly distracted. Secondly, you need to learn to truly engage yourself in the conversation. Listening doesn’t have to be a passive activity. If you’re approaching it that way, you’re probably doing it wrong. The key here is “active listening.”

According to sound and communication expert Julian Treasure, there are four steps to listening well. Summing it up in a neat acronym (“RASA”), he says these are:

  • Receiving
  • Appreciating
  • Summarising
  • Asking

Most people think listening stops at the first step; receiving information. Those who have a particular penchant for distraction are likely to find this particularly hard because it’s relatively passive.

If, however, they understand the necessity of the next three steps that follow “receiving”, they’ll realise that good listening isn’t just about passively understanding, but actively responding as well.

The best listeners are those who show that they’re paying attention, have a good grasp of what was communicated to them, and know how to ask guiding questions to deepen the discussion as and when necessary.



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