This article originally appeared in Tips on Life & Love from Simon & Schuster.
Listening is a skill that can be learned, improved, and perfected. Become an effective listener by avoiding these 7 common mistakes, according to Dale Carnegie Training, author of Make Yourself Unforgettable: How to Become the Person Everyone Remembers and No One Can Resist.
Rehearsing. This takes place when your attention is not on what you’re hearing, but on what you plan to say as soon as you get an opening. You may look interested, but your thoughts are really on what to say next. Some people even plan a whole sequence of dialog: “I’ll say this . . . then she’ll say that . . . and then I’ll say . . .”
Evaluating. If you prejudge a speaker as incompetent or uninteresting, you may be correct — but you may also be creating the very traits you criticize.
Playing “topper.” This term, which was coined by the gifted Zig Ziglar, refers to the tendency to take everything you hear and refer it back to your own experience — which of course is much more interesting than the speaker’s. The speaker tells you about a fish he caught, and you launch into a story about how you caught an even bigger fish. Most people who play topper can’t even wait until the speaker finishes talking. “Truth-telling.” You are the great problem solver. You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin to reveal your wisdom and insight. But is what you know at all congruent with what you’re hearing? Few “truth-tellers” really care.
Faultfinding. You disagree just because you think it’s fun to disagree, and you feel you can get away with it. As a corollary to this, you will do everything possible to avoid the appearance of being wrong.
Placating. This is the opposite of faultfinding, but it’s really just another way of checking out. No matter what the speaker says, you give them a mildly positive response just to keep from genuinely connecting. “Right . . . Absolutely . . . I know . . . Incredible . . . Amazing . . . Really?”
Derailing. This means suddenly changing the subject. As with other listening errors, it’s often done by people in a position of power over the speaker.