Listening: More Than Paying Attention

Have you ever thought after paying attention to a person talk that somehow you still 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 that you will listen well,  avoid distractions, and concentrate on what the person has to say.

Eliminate objects that might distract you. Leave your iPhone in your pocket or purse. Put away your daily calendar or notebook. Have only in front of you what you need to take an occasional note. Adam Hochschild wrote that “Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”  We might change 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 intently enough and ask that the last point be repeated. I’ve learned that from my wife when I have not paid attention to what she has said. It is better to simply own up to your faux pas. Commit to listening better as the person continues talking.

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.

Mentally 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 asking a question 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. To really listen well, consider these 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. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Contact Steve today for priority scheduling! (859) 866-5693 or email

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