What They Didn’t Tell You About Listening

Sándor Sipos
Leadership Trainer | Life & Business Coach | OD & HR Developer | Creative Thinker
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So many times I heard from people in corporate environment when talking about their strengths: „I’m good at communicating with people”. In fact, 9 out of 10 people emphasize this on a job interview as one of his/her most important skills. As if the difficulty of having good communication skills was between preparing scrambled eggs and composing a basic Excel chart (you’re free to decide which one is harder…).

The reason behind this bias in self-assessment is often

a false assumption shared with many people that communicating efficiently equals to communicating a lot.

We can speak anytime, anywhere to anybody so it’s logical to think that we are good at communication, right?

No. There are many reasons we could list why this conclusion is false, but the first and most obvious one is the fact that communication does not start with talking.

It starts with listening.

Listening while talking: a nut hard to crack

That’s why there’s often a strange inverse correlation between the quantity and the quality of someone’s communication. Because it is harder to listen while you’re talking.

However, and that’s one of the biggest feature that makes efficient communication so difficult to work out,

if you want to excel in communication, you need to solve this riddle somehow, and listen to the other even while you’re talking.

Yes, that’s true: you need to listen to the other person even when you are in the middle of your long and important explanation. And not just listen, but pay full attention to the other person – his/her words, gestures, posture, behavior.

Why is this so important? Why can’t we just take our turns? Now it’s my turn to talk and you’re listening, then we change roles and I’m gonna start listening while you’re talking. Why doesn’t it work like that?

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Keep the communication two-sided

The reason is that a communication can only be efficient if it is two-sided. That means that in every moment of that conversation both parties play an active role and take responsibility for the results. If I’m in the middle of explaining something to you, elaborating my opinion, I’m also responsible to pay attention to your possible reactions. Not only to the verbal ones, but also to your nonverbal signals.

You may raise your eyebrows, cross your arms, take a step back or start smiling. Or you may want to add something, ask a question or express your disagreement. And I need to notice these signs in order to keep the communication two-sided.

Too many people stop paying attention when they start talking.

As if they had a two-way switch in their head, with a label “talking” on the right side and “listening” on the left side.

Split your attention – but keep focusing on the conversation

It’s funny how many times we split our attention in our everyday life. We’re typing a message while talking to a friend while trying to cross the street. We’re having a phone call while preparing a dinner for the family while looking for the smallest one’s lost pencils under the table. These are crazy attempts as our brain is not invented for multi-tasking, and is actually very bad at it.

The only really reasonable situation in our everyday life to split our attention would be when having a conversation with somebody else. But not in the way we usually do it.

Because we do split our attention in most of our conversations: we are thinking back to our debate with our boss this morning while we are worrying about how we would catch our next meeting while trying to find out why our colleague is having a seemingly joyful chat with the head of division at the end of the corridor.

And we do all these things during our conversation with a colleague about the change in our project deadline. That’s not the most efficient way to split our attention. Eavesdropping is neither nice nor makes too much sense. Also, we can’t change what happened between our boss and us this morning.

And worrying won’t help catching the meeting. We are free to decide to stop the conversation and head right there or we could decide to take the responsibility for being late and pay attention to the conversation we are having.

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Decide what to focus on – and keep yourself to your decision

Why don’t we use the full capacity of our attention to have an efficient conversation with our colleague right here, right now – and then move forward to the next thing to pay attention to?

We do have the capacity to split our attention in a conversation.

But it’s much wiser to split it between talking to the other and listening to him/her at the same time, instead of talking and doing a bunch of other things meanwhile.

A participant at one of my trainings recently asked me what she should do to pay full attention to a conversation. She complained about losing focus, having various thoughts crossing her mind when talking with somebody for more than a minute. While practicing mindfulness methods could definitely help, I suggested a simpler solution.

You should make a decision: “I’m going to fully participate in the present situation. I chose this, and that means I chose to deal with all the other things later.”

And later means later. Because thoughts WILL come, you can be sure of it. And when you encounter them, you just say: “I chose to deal with these later.” And then you can focus back to the conversation.

Making excuses not to listen is easy – listening is a bit harder

But why is it so important to pay attention to the other even when we are talking? Why should we bother doing this when it is already so hard to focus on our own thoughts, on how to formulate words and sentences out of these thoughts and controlling our body language at the same time? And in addition to this, we should focus on the other person as well?

Yes, I know it’s hard. Nobody said communication is easy. (Actually, I said something like that before…)

But how would you expect to know if the other person follows you without paying attention to his/her nonverbal communication? How would you expect to know his/her feelings about what you just said? How do you plan to adapt your style, volume, speed, word choices and even the content of your communication to the other person if you don’t pay attention to him/her while you are explaining?

You can be sure that your partner’s most important reactions will happen while you are talking.

So you will need to spot the signs in order to make the most appropriate reactions and conduct the conversation in a preferable direction.

Besides, if you don’t pay attention while talking, it’s likely that you will neither listen while the other person is talking. Because then you will easily find another very important thing to think about.

I bet you already found out: your replies.

Thinking about what you will reply is the best excuse not to listen to what the other person is talking about, intends to express and feels in a conversation.

See, we always have the excuse to not listen, do we?

Splitting our attention in a conversation between talking and listening at the same time is one of the most important skills in communication. It’s not easy but it’s not too hard either. Remember, you probably split your attention in most of your communications anyway.

Why not do it in a more efficient way?


Listening while talking is important, but it also matters how you listen. I’ll soon write about how you can use active listening not only to ease a difficult conversation but also to structure a chaotic discussion and get tangible results from a seemingly incomprehensible communication.

Follow me on Linkedin and subscribe our newsletter to not miss this new article about the magic of active listening. Until then, if you want to solve your daily problems in a more efficient and fun way, try our unique self-coaching mobile app, Symblify – Life Made Simple.

Want to know more about why empathy is important in life and how to do it in the practice? Read one of our previous articles below!

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Empathy has a good reputation in society. We all know that it’s good to be empathetic. But in real-life situations we often act in a way that is far from being empathetic. Why is it so hard and what can we do about it? A mind-changing article about the typical misunderstandings and the surprising benefits of empathy.

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The key to solve difficult conversations in a peaceful way is changing your perspective and sharing your experience with the other by saying it out loud. But this is not something you can do easily: you need empathy to do it. But how to be empathetic in difficult conversations? Just follow these 4 simple steps!

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1 Comment

  1. newhomedesign.bid

    Thanks for writing this awesome article. I’m a long time reader but I’ve never been compelled to leave a comment.
    I subscribed to your blog and shared this on my Twitter.

    Thanks again for a great article!


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