Listening and Paying Attention to Others


The first step to communicate well is to listen well.  Listening is dynamic, that means it’s an active process that requires us to listen and think about what others are saying to us at the same time. It also means that the listener tries to understand what the other person is feeling or experiencing and attempting to see things from the speaker’s perspective.

The proper balance between listening and speaking varies depending on who is in on the conversation. Family members and old friends constantly interrupt each other, finish each other’s sentences and can sometimes forget all the so-called rules when they’re together. Talking to a boss or professor is another thing entirely.

All kinds of situations in life require some judgment regarding how much to talk and how much to not. Giving the matter some thought when you’re not in the heat of a conversation can be helpful. There’s no need to literally record your interactions with people, but if you play them back in your mind afterward, you may notice patterns. Are you listening to the other person when they speak? Are you thinking about how they might feel based on what they are sharing with you? Do you notice that you are checking out when someone else is speaking?  Do you tend to look at your phone a lot when others are talking to you? Do you tend to ask questions of others to learn more about what they have shared with you? These are important questions to start asking yourself, if you haven’t already, to get a better sense of how good your listening skills are.

To help you think about how these behaviors impact your interactions, imagine that you are talking to a friend or family member and you can tell that they aren’t listening to you.  Maybe they appear distracted, their body language suggests they are bored or they begin to look at their phone while you are talking.  Has this ever happened to you? If so, you probably remember feeling disappointed, sad or angry that the other person wasn’t listening.

In a world full of distractions it can be easy to get sidetracked and lose focus on the person or people in front of us.  Being mindful of how well you listen to others will be an important consideration throughout your life.  Listening and paying attention to others when they speak is a sign of respect and a skill that will lead to deeper and better relationships.  You’ll also probably learn a lot more about your friends and your environment by actively listening to others. Learn more about having interesting discussions by watching 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation.

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