Are You Listening?

I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.
Larry King

Do you listen or do you just wait for your turn to talk?

When you listen, you have to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying and be willing to let them change your mind. For most people, that’s not an easy state of mind nor is it something that naturally comes to them. It’s why it’s often referred to as active listening: it’s not a passive activity; it takes conscious effort to truly listen.

Listening is a valuable activity for both yourself and the person you’re listening to: it can help build your knowledge or let you see something from a different viewpoint; and, it lets the person you’re listening to know you care, listen to themselves, get something off their chest, and let them make way for new thoughts.

Listening is powerful.

Listening isn’t about outward behavior; it’s not about nodding or eye contact—although they will happen naturally—instead, it’s about being genuinely curious. It’s attitudinal, not behavioral.

I’ve sat in on many focus groups and customer interviews that were nowhere near as effective as they could have been because the interviewer was more focused on their questions than listening to the interviewees. As storytelling expert Annette Simmons comments, many people think asking questions equates to listening: “Some people are lousy listeners because they think that asking lots of questions is good listening. Asking lots of questions is a good way to destroy someone’s story-not to mention break the flow of introspection the storytelling might have begun.”1

And, you’ve all heard the stories about bosses that don’t listen; at some point, you’ve probably told them yourself.

Put simply, listening is about shutting up and paying attention.

One of the most effective ways I’ve found of training yourself to listen comes from when I studied Linklater Method—a voice-based acting training—in college: Once in a while when you’re talking with people, briefly pay attention to your breath; if you’re holding it, you’re focused on something else, likely what you’re about to say in response; you’re not in the moment, listening. As Kristen Linklater, the founder of the technique, says, “If you’re holding your breath in any way, you’re absent.”

Learn to listen. Few other activities will reward you as much as listening can.


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