Are you any good at listening?

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Sometimes when someone's talking to me, my mind starts thinking about whether or not I remembered to put the laptop charger cord in the drawer because the kitten has taken to chewing it and it's so dangerous she could electrocute herself! And what date did I say I'd meet Rach for a coffee again, I think I may have double-booked... Actually was coffee on my shopping li-... Oh hang on, what are they talking about?

If you're like me, you'll find your mind occasionally wanders off when someone is speaking to you. I've come to really appreciate that hearing and listening are very different things. Hearing is passive, it requires no effort to catch the odd word to stay on track, whereas listening is a conscious choice that demands full attention, focus and curiosity.

Think about how much time we spend as children learning how to speak, then to read and write, only to spend even more hours advancing these skills as we go through our education. The skills are explicitly taught and learnt. Why don’t we attribute the same level of importance to learning how to listen properly too? I'd argue it's the most valuable skill to master when it comes to connecting deeply with other humans. Plus my dad always says, 'You have one mouth and two ears, use them in that proportion.'

Why is being listened to so important? Well, I don't know about you, but I feel lots of lovely things when I know someone is listening to me. I feel valued and nourished, heard, important, cared for... When someone generously spends their time really listening to me, attentively, it's a wonderful thing. And likewise, being the listener, being there with them, in a unique conversation, fully paying attention to what they're saying, is so connective and wholesome. When I have the sole intention of understanding what someone is saying, with genuine empathy, there is no room for my own thoughts to creep in (I'm too busy doing you), it is one of the most valuable ways I use my time with other people.

So how do we all become better listeners for each other?

The first step in becoming a more effective listener is to become aware of the barriers that can often get in the way.

Reflect on your own listening skills when you read through the following. If you're anything like me, you'll recognise several of these well-trodden thought processes that can really limit our ability to listen well.

OBVIOUS EXTERNAL FACTORS – e.g. noise, physical discomfort, interruption, mobile phones, etc. How often do you find yourself glancing at your phone?Looking away from someone when they’re talking says to the other person that we’re bored and whatever we’re looking at is more important than this conversation.

RESPONSE REHEARSAL - We switch off listening because we are internally rehearsing what we're going to say next. Response rehearsal is when our whole attention is on preparing what we’re about to say, which essentially means we’re now making it all about us.

IMPOSING COGNITIVE BIAS (PERSONAL VIEW) - Considering your own viewpoint to be the only correct one and therefore being closed to the views of others. This often takes the form of focusing on your own opinions, giving advice, etc., as opposed to listening to the core message that the other person is trying to express and understanding what their view point is. It lacks empathy. And you aren't always right.

FACT FINDING - This is when you search for facts and details, instead of listening to the overall message (or more importantly, underlying feeling) someone is trying to communicate. Fact finders often focus on whether what they’re hearing is ‘right’. Being so focused on the imperfections of what someone is communicating means you will miss the message or feeling that person wants or needs to communicate to someone else (and that someone else is you.)

BEING JUDGEMENTAL - Judging is when we’ve have stopped listening to what the other person is saying. We’ve already made assumptions about, placed labels on or stereotyped the other person, based on our preconceptions or our own stories of how things ‘should be’. If we are judging, we are not indulging someone with the curiosity they need.

PROBLEM SOLVING – It doesn’t take long before we’re searching for the right advice to give someone. We’re so keen to jump in and solve problems that we can miss what’s actually important. For instance, we may not hear or acknowledge the other person’s feelings underneath their words, and as a result, they will leave the conversation feeling alone as well as whatever else they were feeling before, because we weren’t actually ‘with them’ in the conversation.


Q1. How often do you pretend to listen to other people?

Q2. How is your listening different in different circumstances with different people?

Q3. What effect does the quality of your listening seem to have on other people when you’re conversing with them?

All the other stuff we need to do or think about can wait. Listening to this person, in this moment and having a conversation that is completely unique to right now, never to be repeated.... Wow, that's actually pretty special and important. Actually, it's a privilege.

If you need someone to really listen to you, I'm here to do just that. Contact or book your free sample session:

Also! Read my blog on how to improve your relationships or start D&M conversations with new people by avoiding small talk