Effective listening is at the heart of communication. We listen more than read, write, or speak, yet research shows we listen with 25% efficiency. Not surprisingly, “be a better listener” frequently shows up as a top coaching goal for my clients who want to transform how they work through greater emphasis on relationships.

To help my clients improve their listening skills, we first explore what’s getting in the way of listening. They find it’s beneficial to identify the habits they want to stop or manage while they are defining new ones to fill the gap.

Three particular behaviors cause them to be less effective listeners.

Anticipating

We hear the speaker’s words and sounds but focus on what we think they will say. I’ve worked with well-meaning leaders who fall into this trap. Having “been there done that,” they believe an employee tells them something they already know. Wanting to be helpful and expedient (emphasis on the latter), they fail to listen effectively and miss a development opportunity to engage their employee in problem-solving and decision making.

Judging

This habit involves jumping to conclusions about the person or what they are saying. This habit often plagues confident leaders with strong opinions and a competitive nature who quickly assess the “opposition” and formulate a strategy. By concluding too soon versus remaining curious and open, this leader may squelch promising ideas or potentially set the stage for a defensive response.

Reacting emotionally

We all experience triggers of some form, and the subsequent release of stress hormones in our brain guarantees that we won’t listen well. Even when we think we are listening – it’s words and sounds. Stress and scarcity are common triggers for us all, but we typically experience an emotional trigger when something we value is at risk. Whether we respond assertively “in their face” or passively, there are emotions at work that keep us from listening.

Do any of these seem familiar?

As we navigate the world of work and relationships, we all experience these challenges and have “non-listening” tendencies.  Understanding yours requires awareness, reflection, and feedback. An excellent place to start is to ask people you trust; colleagues, friends, a partner, a child, or a spouse what they experience conversing with you. Ask what advice they have for you to improve your listening.

Hear what they have to say (no anticipating, judging, or reacting emotionally) and say thank you! (props to Marshall Goldsmith’s feedforward approach). Put their recommendations into practice and notice the impact.