DO YOU consider yourself to be a good listener? Most people do. However, most people would be surprised to learn that they do not listen as well as they think they do.

While we usually exhibit different listening styles at different times, we habitually spend most of our time in one or more of the following listening modes. Try to identify which of the following styles applies to you, and learn what to do about it.

Shallow or superficial

This type may appear to be listening, but everything goes in one ear and out the other. He is not really interested in the speaker — he just pretends to be.

Remedy: Try to learn something from the speaker. Actively seek some benefit from every conversation you have. Anyone can be interesting if you give them a chance.

Impatient

This type would much rather speak than listen and cannot wait for the speaker to pause so he can take over. The impatient listener interrupts, finishes sentences for the speaker, and changes the subject prematurely.

Remedy: Slow down and enjoy the conversation. Do not show impatience by word, tone or expression. Tell yourself that you will not say anything until the speaker has finished a sentence. If he drones on, use verbal encouragement such as “Really?” or “Why is that?” to gently nudge him onto another track.

Self-absorbed

This type is preoccupied with himself and his own thoughts, needs and problems. He is also thinking about what he is going to say next.

Remedy: Remind yourself that everyone has needs, and yours do not always come first. Treat the exchange as a pleasant social interaction rather than a competition to see whose needs are more important. Forget the destination you had in mind and focus on the journey of a fair exchange.

Other-absorbed

This is a subordinating, unassertive type who is more interested in pleasing the speaker than being an equal party to a dynamic exchange. He may lack confidence or have low self-esteem. He never dominates a conversation, and sometimes barely participates at all!

Remedy: Remember that it takes two to tango. Concentrate on holding up your end of the conversation. Don’t take yourself too seriously — be playful and have fun!

Literal

Often analytical, he is a good listener because he listens to the words carefully, without realising that effective listening comes from the heart. He misses the emotional and non-verbal content of the message.

Remedy: Listen with your heart. Try to understand the feelings behind the speaker’s words. Ask yourself what the speaker is not saying as well.

Critical

This type judges according to preconceived ideas and his own point of view. While critical thinking is useful, not every statement needs to be poked through with holes.

Remedy: Listen with an open mind. Remind yourself that you are not always right. Give the speaker the benefit of the doubt. Put your own ideas on the back burner and see where the other person is coming from. Treat the exchange as a chance to have fun, rather than proving to yourself that you are right.

Adviser

These listeners give sincere but unsolicited advice, telling the speaker what to do or how to solve his problem.

Remedy: Don’t give advice unless asked. While you may truly want to help, not every airing of grievances is a plea for help. Instead, you can help by offering a shoulder to lean on. Concentrate on reflecting the speaker’s feelings back to him. Show that you care.

Interrogator

This type asks lots of questions to get additional information and to control the conversation. If excessive, it could feel you’re getting the third degree.

Remedy: Allow the other person to finish his sentences. Don’t change tack abruptly. Let the conversation flow naturally. Pace your questions, using them to support the conversation, not dominate it.

Empathetic

This type listens from the heart, builds rapport, is attentive and interested, does not judge or criticise, and seeks to understand the speaker’s feelings and point of view. He focuses on making a personal connection with the speaker. He not only cares, but he shows it.

Remedy: Do more of this!

How you listen greatly affects how others will respond to you. Make an effort to understand which of these listening styles you exhibit most often, and take steps to do better. Aim to be an empathetic listener most of the time and watch your relationships improve!