Listen up: Take this Listening Quiz

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    earA few years ago I worked with an individual who came to me because she seemed to have trouble listening to her boss. As we spoke, it turned out she was anxious about remembering everything he said, and so she would furiously write copious notes as he spoke. But the anxiety and the distraction of writing did the opposite of what she intended; she actually heard and remembered less, not more. And the more that happened, the more stressed-out she felt and the less she heard. It was a vicious cycle.

    We all know how important listening is. Right? But in today’s crazy-busy world of work—and home—we sometimes let stress and bad habits trip us up. Think about your own work relationships. If you are experiencing increased misunderstandings or interpersonal issues, it may be due to poor listening habits.

    How will you know? One good start would be to use this checklist to see if you might have allowed a few of these poor listening habits to take root.

    When listening, have you ever found yourself:

     Easily distracted?
     Daydreaming or multitasking?
     Thinking ahead of your response instead of paying attention?
     Assuming you understand when you may not?
     Mentally criticizing the speaker?
     Allowing emotions to interfere?
     Interrupting or talking over?
     Hearing only what you want to hear?
     Waiting for your turn to speak?

    Which of these habits do you have and how can you change them? Take time today—right now—to commit to better listening skills.

    How to build better listening habits:

    Avoid distractions. Turn away from the computer and look at the person you are speaking to. On the phone, turn away from your work and focus on the person you are speaking to.

    Monitor your own behavior. Make calm, steady eye contact with the speaker. Make sure you avoid checking your watch, tapping your pen, or anything else that might signal impatience.

    Listen to the tone and nonverbals as well as the words. What is being said? Why is it important? Think about the entire message and the feelings that surround it.

    If you find your attention drifting, gently pull it back to the speaker. You may have to do this multiple times. If you find you cannot concentrate, consider postponing the conversation until you are able to do it justice.

    As leaders, it is easy to get distracted and busy. But in order to be effective in our work and our work relationships, we must remember to listen fully and effectively to what is being said. In the long run, it will save us time and trouble.


    I would love to hear from you. How do you remember to listen effectively even when under pressure?

    Author Gail Zack Anderson, founder of Applause, Inc. is a Twin Cities-based consultant who provides coaching and workshops for effective presentations, facilitation skills for trainers and subject matter experts, and positive communication skills for everyone. She can be reached at

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    twitter: @ApplauseInc