Listening is More Than Paying Attention

EarsAfter listening to someone, have you ever thought that you were working hard to pay attention and yet you missed important information? Listening is more than paying attention. Telling yourself that you are listening well is not enough. Thinking you are paying attention is not enough.

Prepare for listening. Anticipate the conversation or meeting where listening will be a major part of your time.  Give yourself a pep talk. Affirm silently to yourself that you will listen well, avoid distractions, and concentrate on what the person has to say.

Eliminate objects that might distract you. Keep your iPhone in your pocket or purse. Put away your daily calendar. Have only in front of you what you need to take an occasional note. Adam Hochschild wrote: “Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”  We might change that saying to read, “Listening is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”

Stop the person if you realize that your mind wandered—be honest. Tell the talker you were not listening and ask that the last point be repeated. Commit to listening better as the person continues talking. If nothing else, embarrassment should keep you more alert.

Keep a good listening posture. Don’t slouch. Sit straight in the chair with your feet on the floor. Lean forward a bit to show nonverbally that you are engaged in the conversation. Nod your head at appropriate times. Look pleasant.

Prepare a question or two as you listen. This will help you process information and draw a conclusion even if you don’t actually ask a question. Just the thought of questioning what is being said will help you focus.

Prepare to listen by being silent when the other person quits talking. He or she expects you to respond. Pause a moment and often you can listen longer because the talker will feel a need to continue speaking. His or her defenses are down and you may obtain more and better information by remaining silent.

Listening effectively should be multi–faceted. As you listen, consider these several self-disciplines which will help you listen at an optimum level.


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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