If desire is a key to good listening, the root of bad listening is not flawed technique but a lack of motivation. Motivation will cover any number of listening transgressions. At the same time, it will lead a person to hone his listening approach and to identify bad listening patterns in himself. Let’s be honest: there is some bad listening going on out there. The bigger problem may be that it’s masquerading as good listening. Some people believe they are good listeners when they are not, and other people sometimes wrongly label others as good listeners.
Here are a few of the usual suspects in the ongoing case of bad listening.
The culprits in these bad listening capers would say that their intentions are good. They would say that they sat quietly and let the other person talk before chiming in and therefore they listened successfully. The problem is that silence and listening are not the same thing. Listening is not what you do when you don’t know what to say. If you are using your silence to dwell on what is happening internally—to listen to your own inner monologue, to come up with more questions, to form a critique or a rebuttal, to prepare your own story or otherwise focus less on what the other person is communicating and more on your thoughts about what the other person is communicating—then you are not listening well. True listening is an internal matter; only the listener can truly know in a given moment whether they are listening. You can easily play the part of listening without becoming a listener.
The second, and more prominent, problem is that when you have finished refraining from speech, you immediately turn the conversation toward yourself. Your response, story, disagreement, closed-ended question or agenda is, in reality, about you. The quiet you offered, as a result, has the feel of a setup, as though you were simply biding your time until it was your turn to speak. If you are “listening” in such a way that the speaker must make an abrupt shift to listen, you are not doing it right.