We are not really trained to truly listen. We hear the words or the sounds but we don’t listen for the meaning. Nor do we listen for what is not said. We are too busy framing our responses.  We have two ears and one mouth because when you truly listen and the other person feels heard  there is a connection and respect.

When I teach communication to my management classes I always do an exercise that gets them thinking.  It’s based on the”talking stick” that  is often used in different ethnic groups as well as good team meetings.  People are usually sitting in a circle  and only the person who holds the stick can talk the others can only listen.  In the exercise I pair the students and one has the stick, (usually a pen or pencil), and will spend 1 1/2 minutes describing what they did the day before. the partner must listen without interruption or facial expressions.  We debrief the experience then switch sticks and the new person tells every detail they heard. It sounds easy, but unless the listener truly focuses and isn’t concerned about what they want to say or distracted, they won’t remember all of it.  I do a few more rounds with different directions and in the end most recognize how well or poorly they listen. (If you want the full exercise just email me)

Have you ever asked someone to do something and they nod their heads and “yes, yes” you only to have them return with a result only remotely related to what you asked for? Frustrating isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter if it’s work related or  with family or friends. How many of you are fed up with people so focused on their cell phones they don’t even look at you when you are talking? No wonder they don’t listen to what you said.

Have you ever been told you only hear what you want to hear and dismiss the rest? Talk about being a major issue in creating relationships or solving problems. Think about going to the doctor and hearing scary words like cancer and not listening to the rest or asking for clarification.  Then there are those who only listen to certain people be it politicians, or teachers, or clergy or friends and assume it must be true without fact checking.

Listening is part of a communication process. It is  one of the toughest skills to master as we need to uncover the deeper barriers within ourselves. Yet it is one of the most important skills we need to develop as we move to more demanding roles and relationships.

When you are listening to someone is the message distorted by preconceived ideas you have and you tune out some of the message or it brings up emotions like fear or anger that warp what is being heard? It is important to create a neutral listening place in your brain to hear what others are saying without judgment. This mind shift also activates the mirror neurons, enabling you to experience the meaning others bring to their words, to connect, to build trust, and to make others feel safe to open up to you.

By understanding what can shut down your listening, you can improve this important skill to enable you to align people, decisions and agendas.  So what gets in the way of your listening?

Specific Uses of Listening…
  • Increases your influence – invites others to listen to you
  • Increases your knowledge – encourages others to open up and give you more information and background
  • Makes others responsible – understanding does not mean agreeing or taking on responsibilities that belong to others
  • Identifies motivation – understanding others’ intentions, values and feelings helps to understand why they have strong opinions and beliefs
  • Clarifies issues – understanding the other person’s point of view helps to identify the real problem and not the symptom
  • Finds common ground – invites a “win-win” approach to solving problems
  • Empowers others – encourages others to speak up, be honest and express their real opinions and feelings

For fun try the assessment below see how well you listen and identify areas that could be improved.

Listening Self-Assessment


 How effectively do you listen? This self-assessment will jog your thinking and give you some answers.  CIRCLE one of the following choices for each of the 12 statements.

 “Y” for YES



“N” for NO


  1. When people are talking to you, do you tune them out?

Y    M    S    N


  1. While people are speaking to you, do you find it difficult to look directly at them and show your full attention?

Y    M    S    N


  1. Do you take “mental trips” when you think you know what the person is going to say?

Y    M    S    N


  1. When you are confused, do you make minimal effort to understand what the person is saying?

Y    M    S    N


  1. If you think it would take too long to understand something, do you try to avoid hearing about it?

Y    M    S    N


  1. When discussing issues, do you focus more on thinking about your response rather than listening to the other person’s point of view?

Y    M    S    N


  1. If you believe an explanation is unclear, do you think it’s not worth your time to ask questions to clarify any confusion or disagreement?

Y    M    S    N


  1. Do nervousness and anxiety keep you from listening to someone who is more knowledgeable or has a higher ranking than you?

Y    M    S    N


  1. Do you over-react to what you perceive are “emotionally charged” words or deal with conflict situations?

Y    M    S    N


  1. When disagreeing with someone, do you forget that people tend to be less defensive when they believe they are being understood?

Y    M    S    N


  1. Does giving people your undivided attention (i.e., put aside what you’re doing) feel like more effort than it’s worth?

Y    M    S    N


  1. Do you forget to pay attention to your own voice tone, facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture when listening to others?

Y    M    S    N


Listening Self-Assessment Scoring


 For each of the statement numbers below, write your responses to determine your “listening patterns.”

 Staying “Inside” Yourself. Being stuck inside your head as opposed to listening to them

1 –

3 –

6 –


Paying Attention

2 –

11 –

12 –


Getting Clarification

4 –

5 –

7 –


Dealing with Feelings and allowing them to distract.

8 –

9 –

10 –

If you need ideas on how to change patterns email me