Listen Harder

Have you ever been talking to someone and sensed that they really aren’t listening to you? The person might have poor eye contact, nodding their head without a change of expression, or interrupting you before you had a chance to complete a thought. Basically, their body language and body cues are telling you, they are not interested and want this conversation to end, or shifted to themselves. At any rate, this is poor form and disrespectful.

Communication is at the forefront of many of our life activities, yet it is many times handled incorrectly. Communication is a give-and-take dynamic. Communication is seemingly simple in theory, yet very difficult for many to execute. For this reason, concentrating on “listening harder” is a good starting point to improve communication.

The ability to effectively listen is a skill that involves effort. Effective listening requires a strong engagement by the listener. Listening is multi-faceted and involves not only your ears but your eyes as well. Eyes that are expressive are an essential body cue to effective listening and it all begins with good eye contact. Expressive eyes tell your communication partner that you care, you understand and you are engaged in the conversation. What effective listening does not include is the overuse of your mouth. God gave us two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion.

To be an effective listener requires a certain degree of motivation. To be “in the moment”, not distracted, and not impatient requires focused attention. Focused attention is a process for listening that enables a person to determine what the communication partner trying to is say and what they aren’t saying. The effective listener needs to attend to, understand, receive, and interpret what their communication partner is trying to say.

Another key to effective listening is responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback. We all know what verbal feedback is, but what about nonverbal feedback? Some simple, conscious efforts to engage non-verbally, can be a smile, head nod, raised eyebrow, or even a slight shrug. All can be effective ways to stay present in the “two-way street”, we call effective communication.

As we analyze listening, it is valuable to realize there are typically four levels of involvement. Many times people will flow from one level to another at any time. This of course, leads to a poor communication experience, especially for the person trying to stay engaged during the entire conversation. The four levels of listening are:

  1. We ignore the person we are conversing with.
  2. We pretend to be listening to the person we are conversing with.
  3. We selectively listen to the person we are conversing with. We “tune in” and ”tune out”
  4. We attentively listen to the person we are conversing with. This is an effective and recommended level of listening.

Valuable reminders of what to avoid when engaging in a conversation are always important to revisit:

  1. Prejudging what the speaker is about to say.
  2. Silently “bashing” appearance or delivery.
  3. Thinking about what you want to say next.
  4. Interrupting the speaker.
  5. Looking around for someone else to speak to.
  6. Finishing the other person’s thoughts.
  7. Being distracted by what is happening around you.
  8. Tuning out.
  9. Not giving any verbal, or nonverbal feedback.
  10. Poor body language.

Communication is quite possibly the key element to effective living. Trying to “listen harder”, can be the first step all of us can try to employ to start on the path of better communication with all.


Mike Zinn
Mike Zinn
Mike Zinn is the founder of Life Coaching By Mike Zinn. Mike has spent over 40 years coaching, teaching, and mentoring in public and private schools and the business world. In addition to Life Coaching By Mike Zinn, Mike has founded Get Fit Forever and developed AquaBells into a leading worldwide fitness equipment brand. Mike now uses his Life Coaching platform to work with individuals, couples, and groups through direct coaching, writing, and his YouTube Channel. In addition to writing on his Blog, Mike is a contributing writer, for the Orange County Catholic newspaper. The Life Coaching By Mike Zinn program is built on the foundation of six key concepts; 1. Exhibiting compassion; 2. Developing integrity; 3. Being accountable and encouraging accountability; 4. Developing forward thinking and being action-oriented; 5. Identifying, developing, and implementing goals, and; 6. Adding value to people's lives.

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  1. Very informative and insightful. Article Thank you.
    The “communicative competence” is the basis of every relationship, it includes verbal exchange and also non-verbal communication, as well as silence and listening.
    This competence is based on three specific skills: that of reception, i.e. the ability to correctly grasp and interpret the interlocutor’s signals (verbal and non-verbal); that of sending messages, i.e. the ability to act appropriately towards the other; the intra-individual one, i.e. the ability to be aware of one’s communicative attitudes.
    Within the communicative interview, listening is the fundamental element as it allows one to communicate one’s willingness to welcome, so as to reduce anxiety and to increase the interlocutor’s trust in us.
    To stimulate our ability to listen especially at work it may be worth avoiding exogenous distractions especially if while we are relating we are seized by the “downward gaze syndrome”; to constantly check our understanding by sensing signals of our listening habits; and finally to ask questions aimed at listening, encouraging our interlocutor to express himself.