Effective Listening: How well do you listen?

May 6th, 2013 by Sit up a Tree

Effective Listening Part One

Communication is a two way process. Signal sent (speaking) and signal received (being heard). But, no matter how good you are at getting your point across, if you can’t listen effectively to the speaker’s reply you are missing out a big part of the process.

This post is about the listening part of communication and in today’s fast-paced, distracted world, listening is a skill that is quickly being lost, so it’s vitally important to keep our listening skills in tip-top condition.

Paying Attention?

How often do you do the following?

–       listen to your partner talk about their day while watching TV

–       use a laptop in a lecture or meeting

–       check your phone during lunch with a friend

–       think about what you’re going to say next while a friend is talking about a problem

We can probably all answer yes to doing some or all of these. Just as when your attention had drifted in school, you had to admit that you “hadn’t actually heard the question”.  Now, just as then, this lack of focus is having a big effect on our communication. In fact it’s probably worse than when you were at school. Where it was once inappropriate to use a phone in a restaurant or send texts during a meeting, it is now considered the norm. Why was it considered inappropriate once? Because doing anything other than listening to the speaker meant you weren’t paying attention. Nowadays when we are all multi-tasking all the time, it’s no longer considered inappropriate. But that doesn’t mean we are actually paying attention, does it?

The solution seems simple enough if a little old school – put down the gadget, switching off the TV and pay attention. Of course that’s easier said than done. Our fiddling hands and information addictions have built up over time and have grown into habits that are hard to shift. The next distraction after putting the gadgets down is that we are thinking about how much we miss them and need to check them. So we still aren’t present in the moment and giving our attention to the speaker.

Beat the fidgeting hands and restless mind addiction!

Giving up any bad habit that we still need to do in moderation is often so much harder than giving up one that we can just stop. And that’s pretty hard! We can’t necessarily stop using a cellphone or tablet. We still need to work on laptops. Just not all the time.  The best way to beat fiddling hands and information addiction is to start putting the gadgets out of reach (and out of view!)  just to let your hands rest for a few minutes every day. What better time than during a meeting when you can’t go scrabbling through your briefcase or run back to your office to get your device? How about leaving your phone behind on date night? Or not taking your tablet on a plane? Or maybe go cold turkey and leave behind your phone when you go on vacation? The point is that we force ourselves to have some conscious time when we are doing nothing with our hands so we can start to reset the physical need to fiddle. Likewise you will begin to train your mind away from information addiction and the need to know what your Facebook friends ate for breakfast.

Putting down the gadgets for even a few minutes a day will start the process.

Multi-tasking and the restless mind

Another problem is that our minds are used to multi-tasking. Sure you can listen to a friend and type an email to your boss at the same time, but are you really doing a good job of communicating with either person? Maybe not.  It’s possible you’re not giving either task the attention it deserves.

Much has been written about multi-tasking, that equally lauded and loathed skill of the last decade of the 20th century. Does doing several things at once have a positive effect on our work or not? Is it efficient? Effective? Is it not really multi-tasking anyway (serial tasking switching instead)? Is good for us? Bad for us?

One thing is for sure – multi-tasking is habit-forming. For those of us who want to wean ourselves back to attending to just one thing at once, it can be a tough habit to break.

On the plus side, achieving better communication can be a great motivator for breaking the multi-tasking habit. What better reward than that feeling after you’ve had a really good conversation?

Listening to others can be a great stepping-stone to mindfulness.

Take a breath, put down the gadgets, and listen.

If you find your mind wandering away or if thoughts pop up, just let them go and move your concentration back to the speaker’s words. It may even help if you watch the speaker’s mouth. Notice how they form the words.

Practice mindfulness. Spend some time every day concentrating on being in the moment.  Let your thoughts pop up as they may, but don’t follow them. Let them go. Even just a minute or two spent mindfully each day can have positive rewards.


  • To really listen to people you need to pay attention.  All your attention.
  • Put the toys away!
  • Stop multi-tasking!
  • Paying attention is only the first step. The next step is practicing it. Daily.

You’ll find that you quickly notice a massive improvement in communication.

The better we can listen, the better we can respond.

Next time – HOW to listen


This entry was posted on Monday, May 6th, 2013 at 10:53 am and is filed under Communication, Personal Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Effective Listening: How well do you listen?”

  1. Sit Up A Tree » Blog Archive » How do you connect with people? Says:

    […] Read this series of posts that can help improve your listening skills. […]



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