How Well Do You Listen?      

By Jenny Davidow, M.A.

Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved 


How often do you find yourself complaining, “I told you, but you just weren't listening?” And let's face it, how often have you (and I) been guilty of hearing someone talk, but then you had to say, “I'm sorry, I have no idea what you just said. My mind was somewhere else.”


Many of my clients know they're missing something because they're losing customers, business opportunities, and meaningful connections. They ask me, “What should I be doing to listen well?”


Listening is quite different from hearing, isn't it? We were given two ears and one mouth for a reason: the ratio suggests that  we should  listen twice as much as we speak. Mark Twain put a humorous spin on this when he said, “If we were meant to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.”


Do you remember the Gary Larson cartoon,'What dogs Hear'? Ginger the dog is listening to her master talking to her. The talk balloon shows what Ginger hears: “Blah-blah-blah Ginger, blah-blah-blah Ginger.”


Listening well is called active listening for a reason. You are actively involved. You are tracking what is said well enough to remember what the points were or to ask a question. You are listening to the message, not just hearing blah-blah-blah.


I met someone the other day who talked almost non-stop. During the pauses I said a few things, and he answered with his point of view. He told me later, “Usually I have to force myself to stop talking.” In Twain's model, this man had two mouths and one ear.


Unfortunately, most people are quite passive when it comes to listening. Many are just waiting for “their turn” and not even hearing what is said because they are planning their own clever response. Come on, admit it. We've all been guilty of that.

 When we keep talking and don't listen, we aren't communicating so much as performing a monologue.  (And when we're preoccupied with talking to ourselves instead of listening to the other person, the same is true!)


Communication – speaking and listening – involves an exchange of energy, a give and take of interest and response. We take in what the other person says, see and feel it in our minds and bodies, and give back signals: We nod, smile or frown, and then perhaps ask a question or make a comment that shows we have followed along.


But we don't listen with only our ears, do we?


The best listening results in the other person “feeling heard.” When we are good listeners, we are actively pursuing an understanding of the feelings beneath the words.


 We are listening with our eyes and other senses: taking in the body language and facial expressions  of the person speaking.


When we 'listen between the lines,' we pick up on what the words aren't saying. Many times people don't say what they really mean or feel, but you can sense there is more going on. You may get a gut feeling or intuition about what is really going on, what is implied, or what is being avoided. You may feel your own stomach tightening or your chest getting heavier. This is a natural form of empathy: You listen with your heart and body as well as your ears.


What signals are you sending?


In our Western culture the common reasons why people have so much trouble listening are: too much chatter in your head, boredom, distraction, or not being interested in a point of view that is different from your own.


We know there are a thousand ways to stop listening and break the enjoyment and connection that is possible with two-way communication. We can sense when someone has stopped listening to us, is distracted or checking email while we're talking to them on the phone. We can tell the difference between a casual or mechanical paraphrase of what we said and a caring response that lets us “feel heard.”


Real listening asks us to make room to take in what another person is saying. We need to welcome  each other's communication, consider what is said with interest, be willing to feel it inside ourselves as if it were our own.


We listen with our eyes as well as our ears, our hearts as well as our intellects. We send signals  that we're listening through our eyes, body language, and our degree of attentiveness. When we are willing to go beneath the words, to read the feelings and needs that are implied but not said, we can offer a deeper understanding that gives the other person the unforgettable sensation of “feeling heard.”

 To 'tune up' your listening skills, notice the signals you're receiving from the other person:


Listen with your ears:

Listen with your eyes: The body language and facial expressions of the person speaking will often tell you more than their words.


Signal your genuine interest in listening:


Take the Psychology Today “Listening” self-test:

See the Gary Larson cartoon at:


Raise your communication skills to the highest level of style and success!

Jenny Davidow, M.A., is a Communication Coach in Bellingham, Mt. Vernon and Seattle, WA. Training and support to enhance your verbal and nonverbal skills, effectiveness in public speaking and in print media.

Fully align your words, intention and body language for your next presentation, article or report.

Communication coaching sessions by telephone, Skype and in person.

Visit and Communication Coaching for more information.