10 Listening Styles You Should Avoid

Have you ever been in a situation where your partner was distraught about some event, told you what happened and then became upset with you after you responded? We all know about the dangers of dispensing "words of wisdom". But when we are confronted by someone in a situation that is emotionally volatile, many times we just don't know how to give them what they say they want, nor are they even sure of how to ask for it! The key to maintaining harmony then, is to understand and avoid using the listening styles that damage the communication process.

Let's look at a typical scenario and then apply each of the styles to it:

Your partner just had a dispute at work and he or she is fuming about it. You listen for a few minutes, then you reply.

1-Quizzing and probing - "Were you expecting it? Are you sure you didn't start it?" All that's absent is a bulb hanging from a ceiling as you become the "detective" conducting an investigation. Ultimately, your partner will feel interrogated and begins to regret bringing up the subject.

2- Analyzing, interpreting, diagnosing- "You're not assertive enough; you don't stand your ground." A non personal "CSI-like" approach to the situation will not cause your partner to feel understood or accepted.

3- Advising- "You should just go out and watch a movie so you don't have to think about it too much." Giving advice is rarely useful, since it requires that you know your partner as well as they know themselves, which isn't possible.

4- Placating and reassuring- "Don't worry, everything will work itself out." You stand a good chance of being perceived as not caring or not being interested because you didn't make an attempt to find out how your partner felt about it.

5- Judging and evaluating- "You shouldn't feel so bad...lots of people have problems at work." Such a response, even when you are praising or commending your partner, can make you appear to be placing yourself above him or her, as if you are superior and entitled to make such a value judgment.

6- Generalizing- "Most people feel the way you do about this at one time or another but it soon passes." Your partner's experience is unique and it is unlikely that you will gain any appreciation by treating it like it's routine.

7 Challenging- "You've only been having problems with your coworkers for a short while. It's not like it's been going on for years!" In this case you are implying that your partner is complaining about an event that you don't consider worthy of discussion.

8- Warning and threatening- "You need to keep in mind that we need the income and you can't afford to be fired or laid off." This response comes from the twisted logic that you are actually wanting to motivate your partner to do the right thing, but in reality, it comes across as bullying, and that you are more interested in maintaining a certain standard, rather than to show compassion regarding an unpleasant event at work.

9- Distracting- "It'll probably blow over....so, which restaurant do you want to go to tonight?" This sends the signal that perhaps you aren't very interested in your partner's situation.

10- One-upping- "You think you had a rough day? Just wait till I tell you about what happened to me!" Somehow, you've managed to reverse the conversation so that you are the focal point, causing your partner to assume that you're just "selfish".

Now that you've learned some styles to avoid, here is one you can use that will be effective:

Understanding and focusing, which is also known as empathy. It is powerful and is a skill that can be learned by anyone.

Here's an empathic response to the work situation outlined in the beginning of this article:

"You feel [choose the most appropriate emotion] because you want [describe what you believe your partner wants]." You want to connect both with your partner's feelings as well as to a desirable solution. Even if you are wrong about the specific feelings your partner has and specific outcome he or she wants to accomplish in this situation, your partner will come away with a sense of emotional liberation because he or she will feel like they've been "heard".

We can all use a little bit of coaching when it comes to ourlistening styles. Find out more about how empathy can bring you closer to your partner (or even get your partner back).