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Is Active Listening A Bad Habit?

        posted by , January 11, 2013

Active listening techniques always remind me of parrots.

Parrots are a big commitment as a pet. They're sociable, intelligent and affectionate. However, they tend to be loud and they live up to 100 years (depending on the species).

Parrots can also be taught to repeat what you say.

Active listening is a communication technique that seeks to improve listening comprehension by repeating, paraphrasing and reflecting on what someone has said.

In other words, active listening involves repeating what someone has said directly back to them. This technique has some risk of irritating the speaker (when done wrong). It also tends to make the speaker think you agree with them — even if you don't.

Is active listening a bad habit?

How To Actively Listen

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
~ Ernest Hemingway
It's no secret that people have a tendency to drift off when others are speaking. Well developed listening skills are rare.

It's common to "wait to speak" while others are speaking. When you're waiting to speak – your not really listening. Worse, the speaker might sense that you're waiting for them to shut up.

Another bad listening habit is to mentally multitask. Someone is speaking to you but you're thinking about your weekend.

Active listening is a technique to prevent these bad habits by instilling a new habit: listening to repeat.

You don't need to paraphrase exactly what the speaker has said. For example, you can summarize their feelings – "you feel disappointed".

The idea is that when you must build a summary you're forced to listen more closely. You must process the information you receive in order to rephrase it.

This helps information to stick in your head.

The Problem With Active Listening

There are several well known short falls of active listening:

1. People may think that you're agreeing with them
Summarizing what someone has said essentially means that you agree with them. At least it tends to give this impression.

2. It only works in one to one conversation
When there are 13 people listening to the speaker – not everyone can verbally summarize what the speaker has said.

3. Risk of sounding clueless
There's also the risk that by repeating everything the speaker has said that you'll annoy the speaker. Worse, the speaker might assume that you're clueless.

Active Listening Lite

As a alternative to active speaking. Consider silent active listening.

Summarize everything that's said in your head but don't actually verbally repeat it back to them. When they finish speaking, ask a insightful follow up question or contribute your thoughts.

Silent active listening gives you all the benefits of active listening with none of the limitations and risks. The down side: it takes a higher degree of discipline. It's a difficult habit to stick to.

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