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Non-verbal cues: Competitive listening

What does competitive listening look like? Read about the key signs of competitive listening and what you can do to overcome these habits.

In addition to the verbal responses you might receive, there are several non-verbal cues to look out for that might help you identify a competitive listener. This can also help you to identify and eliminate your own competitive listening habits.

Showing your hand

Four images of Ingrid holding up her hand, as if to stop the other person from talking.

Turning your palm toward the person who is speaking signals a desire to interrupt them and reject what they are saying. Pay attention to the way you use your hands; it could come across as rude and inappropriate.

Puffing and silencing

Two images of Ingrid putting a finger to her lips.

Puffing is a clear sign of boredom, disapproval, frustration and manifests anger or impatience towards what the other person is saying. Putting your finger in front of your mouth is a signal intended to silence and interrupt the other person. The gesture is as bad as telling someone to “shut up”.

Tapping your fingers

A close-up image of Ingrid tapping her fingers against the arm of the couch.

Frequent tapping of the fingers sends the message that something is wrong: Something is making us impatient, or the speaker is addressing topics that fuel our reactivity. It is a display of impatience and nervousness, and it signals our need to step into the conversation (probably to contradict what the speaker is saying).

Crossing your arms

Two images of Ingrid crossing her arms.

The persons who actively listens communicate openness with their body assume relaxed and loose positions, whereas the persons who listen competitively “close” their body by bringing their arms close to their torso and crossing them in a protective stance.

Swinging or tapping your foot

A close-up images of Ingrid swinging her foot.

One cross-cultural movement that is widespread throughout the world is tapping the foot. It stands for “I am impatient.” The foot is tapped rhythmically on the floor. Another nonverbal clue that involves the feet is the “foot swing”. It means “I am bored and I want the conversation to end”.

Rolling your eyes and raising your head upwards

Two images of Ingrid rolling her eyes and holding her hand up to her head.

Rolling the eyes is a universal gesture that shows irritation, impatience and that is used to display disparagement and contempt towards what is said by the other person. It is often accompanied by raising the head upwards, which indicates pride and arrogance, typical of a competitive attitude.

Overcoming competitive listening

In order for us to then actively listen rather than competitively interrupt, we must first subdue our own opinions. Listen and then speak. Process the whole message thoughtfully. Think twice about what has been said, wait for the person to finish talking. Give them the space they need and don’t jump to conclusions. Once this has occurred your opinion will be valued.

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Active Listening: How to Be an Effective Communicator

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