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The Ten Habits of Terrible Listeners

By Andrew Sobel, Big 4 Guest Blogger

You’re probably not as good a listener as you think you are.Andrew Sobel New Headshot 2014

In fact, most people are poor listeners. What’s worse, as we get older and more experienced, it actually gets harder to listen. In any area you may work in, there are a limited set of problems that you will encounter. Once you’ve seen them all and solved them, you want to get right down to work when you run into one of them again. It feels like having to listen to others just slows things down.

Great listening is a vibrant, two-way conversation. You ask thoughtful questions. You share your own experiences. Then you ask follow up questions that show you heard what the other person has said. You affirm. You empathize. You synthesize (“I think there are two different issues going on here…”). You make the person you’re with feel like they are the only person in your world at that moment. You’re not peeking at your smartphone or glancing at the clock.

listening ear

A friend of mine runs a beautiful jewelry store in Santa Fe. He told me once that a young couple came in looking for an engagement ring. After talking to them for just a few minutes, he knew exactly what ring they should buy. But he didn’t push them towards it. Rather, he let them take their time and wander all around the shop while he patiently answered all their questions. He listened to them talk about their preferences and their engagement. He discussed each piece of jewelry that caught woman’s eye. After 40 minutes, they chose the ring that he had already identified in his mind at the beginning of the conversation. “They had a great experience looking for just the right ring,” he explained. “If I had pushed them immediately towards it, they would have lost that experience—that special time together wandering around the shop. And they wouldn’t have been as excited about and committed to their choice of that particular ring.”

Test your listening skills by taking the test, below. You can also download a PDF of the assessment by clicking this link:  Assess Your Listening Skills

Listening Habits Self Assessment

Instructions: Answer each question and then add up your total points

Critical Listening: Do you sometimes…?
(1 point)
(0 points)
1. Interrupt others during a conversation?
2. Rush people who come to give information or ask for advice?
3. Think ahead when others are talking?
4. Finish peoples’ sentences for them?
5. Do more than one thing when listening to others?
(E.g., sign papers, watch TV, check e-mail, etc.)
6. Start thinking about your response before someone has finished talking?
7. Fake attention when listening to others?
8. Prepare for a client meeting by spending most of your time crafting what you’re going to say, as opposed to thinking about what they may say and formulating questions?
9. Forget the names of people you’ve just met?
10. Look at your watch or cell phone when others are talking?
Total Points

How did you score? 7-10 points: BOOR–You really need to work on your listening
skills; 4-6: REMEDIAL–There’s room for improvement; 0-3 points: MAVEN–You’re a
listening superstar

What experiences can you share, good or bad, about listening? What techniques work for you? Leave a comment, below.

Anyone who buys a copy of my new book, Power Relationships, can download the free 90-page Planning Guide I’ve prepared  at Power Relationships Planning Guide

I help companies and individuals develop winning marketplace strategies and build clients for life. My bestselling books include Power RelationshipsPower QuestionsAll for One, and Clients for Life. I spent 14 years at Gemini Consulting, where I was a Senior Vice President and the Chief Executive of Gemini’s Italian subsidiary. For the last 17 years I’ve headed my own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors.

I’d like to hear from you. Contact me at

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