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How to Hear What People Are Really Saying!!

“To be a great listener requires patience, focus, awareness, and most of all it requires us to set aside our own agenda.” –

Matthew Kelly, The Culture Solution

Not Listening

Ted, from the motor pool at work, gave me a ride home. You, reading this story, remember my car accident from the previous stories, right? Well, I haven’t told my husband, Mark, about my car accident, yet. I’m not sure how he’s going to take it.

My headache seemed to be getting worse. The light hurt my eyes. I did as the nurse instructed and went to bed with an ice pack on. It did help. I had been asleep for several hours when my husband got home from work.

“Diane. Diane, are you home?” I heard Mark call my name.

I slowly got up and walked into the kitchen where he was.

“Where’s your car?” he asked. “Did something happen to it? Did you have an accident? Why have you been asleep and dinner isn’t ready?”

I sat at the kitchen table. My headache was gone, but I was sure it wasn’t going to last. He sat in the chair across the table from me.

“So, where’s the car?” he asked again with some elevation in his voice. “Why didn’t you call me? Where is the car? You know we don’t have the best insurance. If you hit something or someone it’s probably going to cost us a lot of ‘out-a-pocket’ for this. I just knew I shouldn’t let you drive that car. I just knew it. But, you promised you’d be careful,” he said standing to his feet while running his hand through his hair.

“But, I…”

“I just knew I shouldn’t have gotten that insurance policy. I just knew it. Here we go. We just got everything paid off. Now, we’ll be in the hole again. How much is this going to cost anyway? What did you hit? I can just imagine. I’m sure it was somebody important. Did you hit a person? Oh, no!! Did the person die?”

He just kept on!

I held up my hand for him to be quiet and listen, but he didn’t even notice. He began pacing back and forth in the kitchen. I laid my head down on my arms. My biggest hope was that he’d wear himself out and shut up, but he had so many words he had to get out. Sometimes it seemed like forever before he stopped talking to listen. Did he even know how to listen? After being married to Mark for years I wasn’t sure I knew how.

Image by GDJ from Pixabay

Image by GDJ from Pixabay

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway

What is Active Listening?

If you do a search for ‘active listening’ you will find several definitions.

  • Active listening is a technique that is used in counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.
  • Active listening is a skill that can be learned and mastered. It involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening by showing nonverbal signs of listening, such as, smiling, nodding, eye contact, posture, mirroring, avoiding distractions.
  • Active listening is paying attention to what is said then basically mimicking what the speaker said.


An active listener can be just a good listener. Being a good listener can be a great benefit in several different areas of your life. It can improve your personal relationships, increase your productivity, and give you the ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate. A good listener also avoids conflicts and misunderstandings in many areas of life.


Why is Listening Important?

Listening is one of the most important skills that a person can have. Listening can affect a person’s job effectiveness. It can also dictate the quality of a person’s personal and professional relationships.

Many of us are not good listeners. Statistics show that, on average, most people only remember between 25% and 50% of what they hear.

What does that mean? When you talk to someone, your boss, colleague, customer, spouse, friend, or children for 10 minutes the listener is paying attention to less than half of the conversation.

It also means that when you are receiving directions, instructions or presented with important information you are only hearing 25-50%.

What if the part you don’t hear is the most important part? Have no fear. It is also a skill that can be learned.

 “Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Understanding your own personal style of communicating will go a long way toward helping you to create good and lasting impressions with others”. – By the Mind Tools Content Team


How to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

  1. Practice Paying Attention.
    • Anything we endeavor to learn and be good at takes practice.
    • Don’t allow yourself to get distracted or bored.
  2. Show focused attention and encouragement through your body language.
    • Make sure your posture is open and interested.
    • Lean slightly forward.
    • Make good eye contact.
    • Acknowledge that you are listening with an occasional nod and an occasional ‘uh huh’.
    • When you are listening it creates a feeling of acceptance and not judgment in the speaker.
    • Extend empathy and understanding.
  3. Defer Judgment.
    • Do not interrupt or talk over, it wastes time and frustrates the speaker.
    • Allow the speaker to finish with proper feedback.
    • Listen without fixing or critiquing or forming a counter-argument.
    • Do not form a response in your mind while the speaker is talking.
  4. Provide Feedback.
    • Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing.
    • Ask questions that move the narrative along or clarify the speaker’s point of view. (You aren’t agreeing only acknowledging that you are listening).
      • “I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX. Is that what you meant?”
    • Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
    • Include the speaker’s emotions in the summary.
  5. Respond Appropriately
    • Be encouraging, respectful, and understanding.
    • Be honest and open with your feedback.
    • When or if it is appropriate to give your opinion do so with respect.
    • Treat the other person the way you would want to be treated.


Mark Finally Winds Down

Mark, finally exhausted from his pacing and ranting, sat in the chair across from me.

“What are we going to do now? You’ll probably be arrested and end up in jail with a high fine. I just don’t know what we are going to do?”

He rested his head in his hands, propped up on his elbows. He exhaled like he was totally exhausted from a long five-mile run.

“Are you finished pontificating?” I asked.

Mark nodded.

“Good. Now, I’ll tell you what happened.” I paused.

He didn’t attempt to say anything further so I continued, “I had turned on Cumberland Ave, you know where the construction is?”


Active Listening Example

Mark nodded, but still didn’t comment, so I continued.

“The street was excessively busy today for some reason. If I remember right, something was going on at the university. You know that with the construction in the center divider sometimes the heavy equipment reaches out into the traffic lane, right?”

Mark finally sat up giving me good eye contact. He nodded, which showed me that he was actively listening. I continued.

“I was headed toward Volunteer Blvd, just like normal, when a campus police car came zooming on to Cumberland from Terrace Ave, right there across from the Original Copper Cellar and Walgreens going toward the hospital. The police car turned left just as a boom on a piece of equipment in the middle…”

“Did the boom hit you? Or was it the police car? Oh man, this is good,” Mark said.

I motioned with my hand to “zip-up” his mouth and pulled my ears forward indicating that he needed to listen – actively listen. He zipped his mouth and sat forward in his chair. I had his full attention. His phone rang. He silenced it and looked at me to continue – no distractions.

“I saw the boom and I saw the police car, but the campus cop didn’t see the boom in time. The boom hit the side of the police car pushing it into my car.  Since I was traveling forward when the police car smashed up against my car, there’s damage on the driver’s side.”

“So, you are saying that the campus police car was pushed up against our car by the boom. Is that correct – paraphrasing with a question for clarification?” Mark asked.

“That’s correct,” I said.

“Were you hurt?” he asked – still questioning for clarification.

“I think I hit my head. I went on to work and the university nurse sent me home.”

“So that is why you were home?” Mark asked.

I nodded.

“Where is the car? How much damage?” Mark asked.

“There isn’t…”

“I like this,” Mark interrupted. “We might get a new car out of this. – Mark hijacked the conversation and switched topics again – autobiographical listening – asking questions, advising or fixing, interpreting, introducing new topics and/or leading the conversation in a different direction.

I sat quietly while Mark rambled on about his newfound opportunity until he noticed I was quiet.

“I’m sorry. I hijacked that conversation, didn’t I,” he said – Mark became aware of his autobiographical listening.

“No new car,” I said. “The motor pool had it towed to their maintenance yard. They delivered it to my office this afternoon about 3pm, fixed, and good as new at no charge.”

“I don’t think I heard you correctly. Did you say they fixed the car for free, no charge, and had it back at your office this afternoon?”

“Yes, that’s what I said.”

“I don’t believe it. Nobody does body work for free. I wanted to sue the university and the construction company. But, I can’t do that if there’s no damage,” he said with pitch elevated.

“That’s right. No damage. No lawsuit. Now, can you please take me to pick-up the car?”

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