13 Mistakes That Prevent Us From Becoming Good Listeners

Patricea Pop

9 minutes read

Since we live and work in an increasingly complex and challenging environment, we need to become more aware of our role as listeners, of how good our listening skills are as well as of the biases we bring to the table in our conversations.

If we want to have a better understanding of our teams and their needs, what drives them to perform, what they like and what they don’t enjoy at work, and what their expectations, grievances, or frustrations are, then we have to be able to listen without judging or interfering during conversations, without jumping to conclusions and without formulating the answer before the other person has finished talking.

It sounds simple, but often we find ourselves listening on the go while scrolling our phones or sending emails, or thinking about something else.

As if living in a world full of distractions is not enough, there are many other factors that come to disrupt and influence our ability to listen, such as cultural factors, language barriers, our own experiences, our personal background and attitude, the channel of communication, our state of mind at that moment, lack of practice, our inner voices, and the list can go on.

Here are some of the most common “mistakes” we feel guilty about while listening:

  1. The level of your expertise on the topic: when you have a lot of experience on a matter, there is a risk that you only hear the type of information that reinforces only what you already know and you dismiss what does not align with your points of view.
  2. You already have a formed opinion about a colleague, client, or project and then you listen to confirm and reinforce your own opinion. The solution would be to stay in the present moment, to focus on the topic at hand, to leave the past behind, and to show up with an open mind as if you were seeing the person for the first time.
  3. Unconscious expectations about things, people, cultures, etc. We all have biases and these act as filters that limit our listening process as they tend to remove what doesn’t align with our perception of the world. One of the common biases is that we all hear the same thing.
  4. Silence. They say silence is golden and that a good listener is comfortable with it. However, many of us are terrified when moments of silence come up during conversations and we often rush to cover the space.
  5. We do not listen to what is not being said.
  6. A good listener is not a judge but a good observer, so it’s better if we manage to stop the inner critic and the tendency to judge others. We also need to ground ourselves more in the energy of neutrality.
  7. We forget to ask clarifying questions and verify we understand what the other person just said.
  8. We are not used to assessing our listening skills, nor to questioning our own biases, filters, and distortions, so most of the time, we keep repeating the same patterns.
  9. We fail to leave our own agenda “at the door” before starting a conversation.
  10. We are not experienced enough (although we hear and listen every day). In fact, listening is a learned skill and it takes a lot of practice to get good at it. The best solution is to listen to people of different types, with many different stories, opinions, and views. Within your organization, it is ideal to listen to colleagues in senior roles as well as juniors, experts and beginners alike, new hires, and people who have been with the company for a long time.
  11. Avoidance: we refuse to hear what we do not want or what we are not ready to hear.
  12. We underestimate how important the context and setting of communication are: time, place, who else is present, noise level, technology, and the communication channel, interruptions that can disrupt the conversation such as phone alarms, notifications, and emails, are all important when we want quality conversations, etc.
  13. You don’t have the mood and energy to be an empathetic and patient listener. Not only is listening an active process, but it requires attention, focus, and the right state of mind. Perhaps the biggest mistake we can make is to look bored and indifferent to the other person.

You can have multiple channels of communication available, technology and gadgets to facilitate the communication process, as well as benefits to motivate employees but when listening is flawed, they often end up feeling ignored, unappreciated, and alone.

Therefore, listening is a powerful tool to create team cohesion, prevent and solve conflicts, avoid resignations, select the right person for the job, motivate and build strong customer relationships. Moreover, being heard satisfies the other person’s need to feel connected, important, validated, and acknowledged. Last but not least, listening nurtures self-worth, and an employee who feels listened to senses that someone takes his/her challenges seriously.

Being a good listener is both simple and hard at the same time, but extremely cost-effective and beneficial because it does not require any expensive software or technology. All it takes is for you to be fully present and curious and last but not least, to keep an open mind about what is being said.

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Written by Patricea Pop


It is said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a simple step and mine started a few summers ago when I wanted to do something for myself, so I enrolled in a coaching programme. This gave me the chance to look at myself from a different perspective: little did I know that it would take me to a different career path, that of being a coach.

After more than 12 years in the corporate world which taught me many lessons and several years of preparation for my new role, I now support people in business to improve their self leadership skills. I think leadership is an inside job and it is part soul searching, part strategy and part relationship skills.

I love writing about work and organizations because it is the place where we invest heavily our time and energy and we often end up feeling stressed, trapped and dissatisfied. My strength relies on my resilience, critical thinking and intuition and I believe it is an honour to accompany someone on their inner journey.

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