By Steve Adubato, PhD

So, you think you are a really good listener? How do you know? Have you ever asked others if you appear to be engaged and interested in what they have to say? Probably not. Most of us don't think much about our communication competence when it comes to listening.

When asked how good a communicator we are, we often measure ourselves in the areas of public speaking or platform skills. However, real communication competence has as much to do with effective and empathetic listening as it does anything else.

In order to get a more accurate picture of where you stand on the listening scale, answer the following statements with "yes, that's me," or "no way" or "okay, maybe sometimes."

  • When I am talking to a friend or colleague, I tend to finish his or her sentence because I think I know what he or she is going to say.
  • In an interview or a meeting, I focus my attention on preparing my response rather than listening to what is being said.
  • When asked for my advice, I immediately provide an answer or response as opposed to asking follow-up questions or paraphrasing what I think I've just heard.
  • In a conference call, I read and/or send e-mail, organize my desk drawers, send a fax, go over my calendar or prepare a shopping list.
  • When at a cocktail reception or business function, I look past the person I am talking to and look at other people in the room I am anxious to speak with, thereby making the person feel insignificant?
  • When I am pre-occupied, disinterested or physically or emotionally not "present," I feign interest as opposed to being up front and acknowledging that I am just not there?
  • When a colleague and/or friend offers constructive criticism, I quickly become defensive and shut out the rest of what he or she is saying as opposed to seeing his or her feedback as an opportunity to grow.
  • When in a meeting or a conference, my first reaction is, "What a waste of time. What can I take away from this?" I then proceed to figure out what I can bring into the seminar to occupy my time as opposed to being open-minded as to what I might be able to learn.

If you've answered 'yes, that's me' or 'okay, maybe sometimes' to any or all of these questions, like most of us you need to work on your listening skills. Becoming a better listener is about being more aware of its importance as well as your specific weaknesses. The next step is to make a conscious decision to do something about it.

The next time you are in a position where you know you should be listening, use the following mental checklist to stay on track. I'm going to…

  •  listen to what this guy has to say.
  •  keep an open mind.
  •  not interrupt unless I'm seeking clarification or looking to engage.
  •  have a curious mind and let myself be surprised by what I learn.
  •  turn off my computer monitor or put down my palm pilot when on a conference call..

Write to me about where you fall short on the listening quiz and I will provide more specific instructions in the future. For now, the key to remember is that good listening doesn't happen by accident or osmosis. It is a product of making a conscious decision that it's worth your time and effort.