Reasons You Don't Listen (2024)

Listening is a part of our waking hours, but sometimes it’s easy to tune out. Understanding why you’re not listening well and how to improve your listening skills can open your ears to hear more.

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Every day we hear words coming out of people’s mouths. However, listening to those words is different than just hearing them.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the word “hear” is defined as “perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something),” whereas the word “listen” is defined as “make an effort to hear something; be alert and ready to hear something.”

“Listening is hard work,” Michael P Nichols, PhD, professor of psychological sciences and author of “The Lost Art of Listening,” says. “It takes concentration and effort and self-restraint.”

While it’s not necessary to listen with concentrated attention all the time – such as during casual conversations – Nichols says that listening is important when talking with people you care about or when someone is talking about something they care about.

“Then you need to listen with effort,” Nichols says. “When someone is talking about something important to them, or they are moved by strong feelings, they need to be listened to more carefully.”

Understanding why people don’t listen can help improve your listening skills. Here are few to consider.

You have the urge to tell your story

When someone is talking, Nichols says, instead of listening, we want to talk about what’s on our mind.

“We frequently interrupt to tell a similar story or say something about our own experience,” Nichols states. “It’s a natural impulse, but it needs to be restrained if someone is talking, and they need to be listened to.”

You want to give advice

When someone is sharing something that is upsetting or if the person talking is unhappy, it can be uncomfortable to listen to them. In hopes of getting the person to feel better, so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable, you might be inclined to tell them how to solve their unhappiness or tell them not to feel upset.

“We know that it’s not OK to say something like, ‘Well, if your dog died, why don’t you go out and get a new one?’ but we get around to that eventually,” says Nichols.

You just want everything to be OK

Because it’s unpleasant to be around someone frustrated or upset, especially if you care about the person, Nichols says you might tend to want to make their pain or frustration go away rather than sit with them in their pain.

For example, if someone tells you they lost a job or were diagnosed with an illness, rather than listening to the details of their situation, he says people tend to say things like, “You’ll get through this” or “Things will look up.”

You react emotionally

If you are being criticized, emotions are triggered, and it is natural to get defensive and not listen to what the person is saying.

This can also happen if a person is talking about something you don’t agree with.

“For instance, if I tell you, I wouldn’t get vaccinated because it’s a government hoax, this might make you upset, and you might fire back right away without listening to my entire reasoning,” states Nichols. “It might be better if you hear me out and then acknowledge what I’m saying before saying your opinion.”

You’re bored

Even if someone is talking about something that feels important to them, it might not be interesting or important to you. Feeling bored can make it harder to tap into your listening skills.

Nichols adds, “One of the reasons people get bored is that they listen without interest and passively. So, if someone is talking to you, ask questions and get involved in the conversation.”

You’re distracted

Distractions – internal or external – are sometimes hard to ignore.

How many of us will turn our heads when we hear a loud noise? If you’re watching an action film with lots of explosions and car chases, it’s pretty hard to carry on a conversation at the same time.

Loud noises aren’t the only distractions, either. Sometimes instead of listening, we might find our minds wandering to things we need to do later.

While someone is talking, you might be occupied thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner or what time the pharmacy or dry cleaner closes.

To focus on the person when they’re talking, it’s important to get rid of both internal and external distractions.

You think you know what people are thinking

While people tend to think they communicate better with close friends than with strangers, an older study found that sociologists believe that closeness can lead to closeness-communication bias – an overestimation of how you communicate.

As a result, sociologists suggest that people actively pay attention to strangers’ perspectives because they don’t know them well. However, when it comes to a friend, they rely more on their own perspective or assume that they always understand what they are saying because they know the person.

“If you are close to someone, you think you know what they’re going to say, so you tend to interrupt and say, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean,’ or you don’t hear them out,” says Nichols.

If you’re looking to improve how you listen, the following tips can be helpful.

Realize it takes effort

Understanding that listening, not just hearing, takes hard work is the first step to becoming a better listener, says Nichols.

“When someone is talking about something important, [consider] making an effort to understand not only what they are saying, but what they are trying to express,” he encourages.

Empathize with the person

When someone is talking, try to acknowledge what the person is saying with a brief empathic comment.

“Often punctuated with an exclamation point like, ‘Oh man!’ or ‘Gee, that’s a shame!’” says Nichols.

Invite more conversation

A good listener will ask questions that encourage the person to expand on what they are sharing.

“Questions designed not to be a detective, but rather to invite the person to say more,” says Nichols.

Phrases like, “Tell me more about that,” or “How did that happen?” can keep the conversation going.

Acknowledge you are listening

Repeating back what you think the person is saying can let them know you’re making the effort to understand them.

“People often acknowledge with a brief statement that says, ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ which suggests you’re really saying, ‘I got it. Let’s move on,’” states Nichols.

He suggests using phrases that show you are trying to understand but want to make sure you do, like, “OK, so you’re saying we shouldn’t get a vaccine. Do I have that right?” or “Is it the way he talked to you that upset you?”

Don’t overdo body language

While many people think direct eye contact, nodding, and making sounds like ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ show someone you are listening to them, Nichols warns that overdoing this can look insincere.

“All those are motivated by the desire to look like you’re a good listener, but if you do listen well, maybe you nod and make eye contact, but making a point of it is saying, ‘Look at me; I’m a good listener,” he suggests.

Try not to multitask

While the urge to multitask is always there, consider putting activities like scrolling on your phone, cleaning the dishes, and others on hold when someone is talking with you.

“If you care about someone, pay attention to them and what they are saying,” says Nichols.

However, when it comes to technology and communication, such as texts and emails from family and friends, he adds that failing to respond can come across as not listening.

“Try to answer and acknowledge tasks. [Consider] responding no matter what they said. It makes people feel understood,” Nichols says.

Practice mindful listening

Practicing mindfulness helps you stay present. This practice isn’t useful only for meditation and lowering stress. It can also help you become a more active listener.

If you tend to zone out when listening, practicing mindful listening will help you learn to focus on what the person is saying without distractions.

Before you start your conversation, remove all distractions such as phones, electronic devices, or computers. If you’re watching a movie, turn it off and turn your attention to the person who’s talking. Take the time while you’re silencing or shutting off your electronics to practice some deep breathing techniques to help prepare yourself to listen.

When you train your mind to become more focused in the moment, you will learn to listen more effectively.

Listening is hard work and takes effort, however, there are ways you can learn to become a better listener.

Reasons You Don't Listen (2024)


What are some reasons you don't listen? ›

Reasons you don't listen
  • You have the urge to tell your story. When someone is talking, Nichols says, instead of listening, we want to talk about what's on our mind. ...
  • You want to give advice. ...
  • You just want everything to be OK. ...
  • You react emotionally. ...
  • You're bored. ...
  • You're distracted. ...
  • You think you know what people are thinking.
Jun 2, 2021

What is the most common reason for not listening? ›

Instead, it can be attributed to such things as arrogance, pride, defensiveness, or an unwillingness to admit to mistakes. We asked you to let us know how you deal with people who don't listen.

What is one reason listening is so difficult? ›

Most of us are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful 75% of the time when we should be listening. We hear 125 – 250 words a minute, but we think at 1000 words a minute. Once we listen to someone, we only recall about 50% of what they said. Long term, we only remember 20% of what we hear.

Why am I not a good listener? ›

A lot of times, people don't listen well because they are too focused on what their response should be. This stems from low self-esteem because it involves worrying excessively about conveying that perfect image and being exactly what the other person expects you to be.

What are 5 causes of poor listening? ›

It can result from various psychological or physical situations such as visual or auditory distractions, physical discomfort, inadequate volume, lack of interest in the subject material, stress, or personal bias.

What is poor listening skills? ›

[…] Poor listening skills include not paying attention to what is being said, interrupting others, making assumptions, multitasking during conversations, and failing to provide feedback. It is important to recognize the signs of poor listening, so you can work on improving your listening skills. […]

What are two reasons why listening is difficult? ›

Technology is the culprit

Gilda Carle, a New York City-based psychotherapist, says that we have trouble listening because we focus on body language 55 per cent of the time, and on vocal intonation 38 per cent of the time. That leaves only seven per cent to devote to what someone is saying.

What are the 7 barriers to effective listening? ›

Common Barriers to Effective Listening
  • Physical and Environmental Barriers. ...
  • Cultural Barriers. ...
  • Emotional and Psychological Barriers. ...
  • Physiological Barriers. ...
  • Language Barriers. ...
  • Making Assumptions. ...
  • Too Much Information. ...
  • Tone of Voice.
Sep 22, 2022

What are three 3 factors that contribute to ineffective listening? ›

Environmental and physical barriers to effective listening include furniture placement, environmental noise such as sounds of traffic or people talking, physiological noise such as a sinus headache or hunger, and psychological noise such as stress or anger.

What are the 5 difficulties in listening? ›

5 Common Listening Problems
  • You get distracted during the conversation and start doing other things. ...
  • Your mind wanders and you realize you've missed everything that the other person has said. ...
  • You start judging the person and evaluating what they are saying. ...
  • You interrupt the speaker and offer your opinion or advice.
May 13, 2019

What are the four challenges of listening? ›

We'll discuss four barriers to effective listening: information overload, prejudice or prejudging, rate of speech and thought, and internal and external distractions.

How do you fix poor listening? ›

How can you improve your active listening skills?
  1. Consider eye contact. ...
  2. Be alert, but not intense. ...
  3. Pay attention to nonverbal signs, such as body language and tone. ...
  4. Make a mental image of what the speaker is saying. ...
  5. Empathise with the speaker. ...
  6. Provide feedback. ...
  7. Keep an open mind.
Mar 9, 2022

How do I fix my listening skills? ›

10 tips for active listening
  1. Face the speaker and have eye contact. ...
  2. “Listen” to non-verbal cues too. ...
  3. Don't interrupt. ...
  4. Listen without judging, or jumping to conclusions. ...
  5. Don't start planning what to say next. ...
  6. Don't impose your opinions or solutions. ...
  7. Stay focused. ...
  8. Ask questions.

How do I overcome not listening? ›

Ears / Hearing / Speech
  1. Keep calm and relax. ...
  2. Use your eyes and ears simultaneously and guess while you listen. ...
  3. Shorten the distance with the speaker and avoid obstacles. ...
  4. Raise questions to clarify misunderstanding. ...
  5. Try to reduce noises and avoid echoes. ...
  6. Pay attention to current affairs and increase your general knowledge.
Sep 5, 2022

What are the 10 bad listening habits? ›

  • Calling the Subject Dull.
  • Criticizing the Speaker.
  • Getting Overstimulated.
  • Listening Only For Facts.
  • Trying To Outline Everything.
  • Faking Attention.
  • Tolerating Distraction.

What are 6 bad listening habits? ›

These bad listening practices include interrupting, eavesdropping, aggressive listening, narcissistic listening, defensive listening, selective listening, insensitive listening, and pseudo-listening.

What are the 4 causes of poor listening? ›

The four main causes of poor listening are due to not concentrating, listening too hard, jumping to conclusions and focusing on delivery and personal appearance.

What is the most challenging part of listening? ›

Empathetic listening is the most challenging form of listening and occurs when we try to understand or experience what a speaker is thinking or feeling. Empathetic listening is distinct from sympathetic listening.

What are the challenges of listening? ›

Contributing factors include the speaker talking quickly, background noise, a lack of visual clues (such as on the telephone), the listener's limited vocabulary, a lack of knowledge of the topic, and an inability to distinguish individual sounds.

What is 4 the most challenging form of listening is critical listening? ›

Empathetic listening is the most challenging form of listening and occurs when we try to understand or experience what a speaker is thinking or feeling. Empathetic listening is distinct from sympathetic listening.

What is an example of ineffective listening? ›

Types of Ineffective Listening

stage hogging listening: turning conversation to oneself. selective listening: responding only to content of particular interest. insulated listening: ignoring or avoiding a topic. defensive listening: taking comments personally.

What are the barriers to poor listening? ›

External Listening Barriers

External barriers include: Noise. Any external noise can be a barrier, like the sound of equipment running, phones ringing, or other people having conversations. Visual distractions.

What are some signs of bad listening skills? ›

Signs you are a bad listener
  • interrupting or speaking over others.
  • planning what you will say when the other person talks.
  • or thinking about other things entirely until it's your turn.
  • matching every story someone tells with your own, 'better' version.
  • never allowing pauses in conversation.
Nov 20, 2019

What are the 5 skills for improved listening? ›

  • Five skills for improved listening. 3m 4s.
  • Recall details. 2m 16s.
  • Understand the big picture. 2m 29s.
  • Evaluate content. 2m 54s.
  • Attune to subtle cues. 3m 19s.
  • Listen with empathy. 2m 57s.
  • When and how to listen. 5m 27s.

What are 3 dangers for not listening? ›

Here are four dangers of not listening:
  • You lose touch with those you serve. Why do you lead? ...
  • You lose the heart of those you lead. The act of listening itself — even before you take any action — builds trust and loyalty. ...
  • You miss the opportunity to impact change. ...
  • You will lose your leadership voice.
Mar 8, 2017

Which might mean that you are not listening? ›

If you're trying to speak to someone who's tapping their feet, moving around, constantly touching their hair, adjusting the hemline of their skirt, or otherwise fidgeting, they probably aren't paying attention.

What are at least 3 important reasons why we listen? ›

10 Reasons Why Listening Is Important
  • #1 Listening builds trust.
  • #2 Listening reduces misunderstandings.
  • #3 Listening helps eliminate conflict.
  • #4 Listening encourages empathy.
  • #5 Listening improves romantic relationships.
  • #6 Listening improves business relationships.
  • #7 Listening helps deepen your friendships.

What is the problem of not listening? ›

Poor listening leads to assumptions and misunderstandings. These lead to errors, ineffective decisions, and/or costly mistakes. On a personal level, poor listening leads to hurt feelings and a loss of team cohesion. This deteriorates trust and weakens communication even further.

What is an example of not truly listening? ›

Being distracted - fidgeting, doodling, looking at a watch, yawning. Inappropriate expressions and lack of head nods. Often when a listener is engaged with a speaker, they nod their head. This is usually an almost subconscious way of encouraging the speaker and showing attention.

What are the 4 purposes of listening? ›

The listening process involves four stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, and responding.

What are the 4 main ways to listen? ›

4 Types of Listening
  • Deep Listening. Deep listening occurs when you're committed to understanding the speaker's perspective. ...
  • Full Listening. Full listening involves paying close and careful attention to what the speaker is conveying. ...
  • Critical Listening. ...
  • Therapeutic Listening.

What are the 7 barriers to listening? ›

Common Barriers to Effective Listening
  • Physical and Environmental Barriers. ...
  • Cultural Barriers. ...
  • Emotional and Psychological Barriers. ...
  • Physiological Barriers. ...
  • Language Barriers. ...
  • Making Assumptions. ...
  • Too Much Information. ...
  • Tone of Voice.
Sep 22, 2022

What are the four barriers to listening? ›

We'll discuss four barriers to effective listening: information overload, prejudice or prejudging, rate of speech and thought, and internal and external distractions.


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