The 4 habits that derail you from being a great listener

We are all taught to speak. Yet none of us are taught how to listen.

We can instinctively identify when the person we are speaking to isn’t listening. It’s a natural human instinct to detect when someone isn’t listening. We don’t need training to understand when someone isn’t listening.

You learned to listen before you were born – 20 weeks after conception. It was the first skill you ever developed – you learned to listen before you learned to breathe or speak.

Did you forget something about listening after you learned to speak? So why are so many people so bad at listening?

Poor listening is individual and situational. 

Poor listening habits are a function of who you are speaking to, as well as the nature of the dialogue. Each of us, when we are not conscious of deep listening, can fall into four listening types. These aren’t productive listening habits for you, or the person you are in dialogue with.

As you explore the 4 habits of poor listeners, see what people and situations that you fall into with any of these styles. Sometimes you will fall into these habits with people you know well or those you meet for the first time.

The cost of not listening for leaders is significant especially as you try to bring about change and impact inside and outside your organisation. The lost potential is massive and the frustration it creates brings chaos, confusion and conflict in the workplace.

As leaders, when we understand that our staff and customers don’t just want you to listen, they want to be understood and heard.

The challenge is like a simultaneous equation – two independent variables engaged in the same place and time. This means when you are speaking you need to be conscious if your speaking style matches their listening style and conversely how can you as a leader help a speaker to be more flexible in their speaking style through deeper listening.

To help hone your listening capability, see who you can think of when you listen in each of the 4 ways. You might notice which one or more of these you are guilty doing.

1. Lost Listener

You are in your mind rather than in the conversation. The lost listener is so absorbed with your self-talk you don’t create enough space in your mind for the dialogue to land because you are so busy thinking about your last thought or your next thought that you can’t focus on the discussion. You are lost before you turn up to the discussion.

TIP: When you become lost, focus on the speakers breathing. 

2. Shrewd Listener

You are too busy trying to solve the issue before listening to their explanation. This is the affliction of a quick mind. You are so brilliant that you think you can fix the issue you are discussing before they have explained it. Not only are you so brilliant at fixing the issue they are explaining, you are anticipating and fixing 3 to 4 issues you think you should be really discussing.  You are shrewd enough to wait patiently and not interrupt, yet you are not present or involved in the dialogue. You are so far into the future that you have forgotten the dialogue is happening in the present.

TIP: Listen beyond the words and content and focus on the context of the dialogue

3. Interrupting Listener

You are too focused on finding a solution that that you are finishing their sentences for them because you feel they are moving too slowly in describing the issue. You listen with the intent of solving, rather than an intent of listening curiously and completely.  You interrupt and interject before they can fully explain. The speaker feels frustrated and rushed because although you are listening to the content, they can’t completely explain their thoughts.

TIP: Listen for what is unsaid – what is speaker not saying?

4. Dramatic Listener

You love drama and you explore and over explore every element of the discussion. Rather than help the speaker progress the dialogue you are stuck in understanding the historical events that have led to the discussion.  The dialogue feels frustrating for them because your well meaning and constant questions are distracting. You not only love listening to their drama, you also enjoy creating a bit yourself. You are so engrossed and engaged in the drama of their story that you get lost in the speaker, rather than being focused on the dialogue.

TIP: Focus on the patterns in the dialogue, not the actors and the storyline. 

Do you notice yourself or someone you know in these 4 habits of poor listening?

Deep Listeners are focused on impact through dialogue.

They listen beyond the words. They are focused at all 5 levels of listening. Yet most of you focus listening on the content and the speaker. Deep Listening is a skill, it’s a discipline and a practice. Awareness of deeper levels of listening is the starting place of improvement.

As leaders, you play a dual role in listening. You need to be conscious of how you listen and adapt to the dialogue you are participating in. You also need to create a space to listen and hear for the speaker, the result is greater trust, better communication and transformational impact.


“Oscar’s like Yoda, he asks powerful and transformational questions”

An expert in assumptions and listening to what matters. He helps leaders go beyond the obvious and explore alternatives that makes continuous changepractical. The result for teams and organisations is faster progress, more impact with less effort.

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