Are You Listening To Me?

By Chris Elliot

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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“Are you listening to me? What did he call it again?  It was an interesting word,” remarked the promoter.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t listening to him. He was talking on and on,” responded the speaker.

That was a snippet of a conversation I heard recently while attending a leadership conference. The main speaker was mingling with the crowd and really left a good impression on the attendees. His eyes were focused on each speaker. He nodded and laughed at seemingly all of the right moments.

Yet, when questioned, he couldn’t recall the conversations because, by his own admission, he really wasn’t listening.

I may not be a great talker or conversationalist, but I love to listen. I especially love personal stories. If you ever meet with me, we will likely turn a 30-minute chat over coffee into 90 minutes easily. And likely, you’ll do most of the talking.

On my 10th wedding anniversary, some friends decided to take my wife and me out to dinner with him and his wife. We went to a local restaurant and spent 45 minutes at the bar chatting before taking a seat at our table. Dinner lasted about 2 hours from then. It was just us four sharing stories and dreams.

As we drove home, my wife asked me, “Did you even have fun?”

I said, “Yes, I had a great time. Why?”

“You hardly said a word,” she noted.

“I was listening to the stories,” I responded.

Good Listening

You see, for me, listening means I talk less than the other person. I wait patiently for a break in the conversation and then interject my ideas. I figure if someone is willing to give up their time to share a story with me, it must be important to them. Interrupting, cutting them off, or finishing their story for them just to get my ideas out is belittling.

My wife believes a good listener retells some of the other person’s story while adding in a similar story of her own.  This shows that she heard and understood their feelings because she’s been there.

Which Way is Correct?

In the art of effective leadership, both are correct, and neither is correct. Both are correct because each of us is authentic in how we listen. Neither would be correct if we tried each other’s techniques.

If I tried to interject when I thought it was appropriate to show my feelings and understanding, I’d come across as fake. If my wife tried to be silent through the entire story, she’d probably burst. By me concentrating on her style and she focused on using mine, neither of us would be truly listening. We’d be too busy thinking about the technique.

Although the speaker I overheard was putting on a very good and well-rehearsed image of someone listening, he really wasn’t a good listener.  He was much more focused on the impression he left with his audience than he was on what others were really saying.

Certainly, we all can enhance our ability to listen by practicing certain techniques.  Just don’t be fooled by those who are skilled purely in the techniques, and don’t be too focused on listening techniques yourself.

If you are concentrating on your posture, eye contact, facial expression, or how you’re going to reiterate what the other person said, you’re not focused on what the other person is saying.

My number one piece of advice to those who want to improve their listening is to start by caring enough about the other person to close your mouth, open your mind, and listen.

Are You Really Listening to Others?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Chris Elliot
Chris Elliot
Chris is a practicing Servant Leader with more than 20 years experience helping organizations implement change. In his new book Thought Shredder, he outlines the process that helped him become an authentic leader.
  • Kannan.M.S. says:

    ” Portrayed well on : Listen interactively as much as needed to provide your audience & you to sail together on ommon areas of association & benefit.”


  • Shannon Stone says:

    Hi Chris,

    I too am a listener, most of the time. But it is important to realize that real active listening often takes a conscious effort. People need to focus on the message and turn off there own compulsion to speak over others or let their own internal conversations distract them. There is time to formulate a response after you have heard what the speaker has to share. Nice Post.

    Shannon Stone

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