• Communication
July 25, 2016

3 Signs That You’re Hearing But Not Listening (and what to do about it)

If someone asks, “are you a good listener?”  your response will likely be, “absolutely!”

The reality, however, is that many leaders are not great listeners. In hundreds of hours of assessments and feedback sessions with leaders, one of the most common development opportunities is listening.  The good news is that listening is a skill that can be improved with a little bit of hard work, dedication, and determination.

Bonus Content:  Test Your Listening Skills by taking this quick quiz
Click Here To Begin Your Quiz

So, let’s talk about the difference between hearing and listening.  They are not the same thing.   Hearing is a passive action. It doesn’t require any real effort and even when you’re hearing, your mind can be occupied by other thoughts.  You can usually tell when someone is hearing you not listening – just check out their blank stare.



Listening, on the other hand, is an active process. Listening means paying attention and making a conscious effort to process what you hear. When you listen, you are showing people that they are important, you appreciate them and care about their thoughts and feelings.  Being a great listener helps you cooperate with other people and make decisions easily without any errors.

 3 Signs That You’re Hearing But Not Listening

 You immediately go into problem-solving mode

Time is a precious commodity for all of us.  The faster we can solve the problem the faster we can move on to the other tasks on our to-do list. Unfortunately, going immediately into problem-solving mode may not be the best alternative. What if you don’t have all the information you need to offer the best solution?

Remember, sometimes people want to be heard more than they want your solution. And sometimes they want your solution – but only if they first see that you understand the problem from their perspective.

einstein problem solving

You’re thinking of other things

Who hasn’t been guilty of this at one time or another? Your employee is speaking, but you’re thinking about your presentation this afternoon. Your spouse is speaking, but you’re thinking about work. You’re in a training class to learn listening skills, and you’re considering how to respond to an email.  If any of these sound familiar, you may not be listening.

You’re planning your response

You feel engaged in the conversation because you’re already thinking about the suggestions you’ll make when the person gets to a particular point. However, if you’re mentally preparing in advance while someone is speaking, you aren’t listening intently. You’re very likely to miss important messages.

So, are you hearing but not listening?

If so, don’t feel bad. We all do it. But in the words of Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President, “[Tweet “No man ever listened himself out of a job.]”

Try these three quick tricks to help you immediately become a better listener.

3 Tips to Become A Better Listener

Summarize What You Hear

One of the best ways to signal that you’re listening is to periodically repeat what you’ve been told. Starting sentences with “It sounds like what you’re saying is…” or “What I’m hearing is…” will encourage the speaker and it will prove that you’ve listened to what they’ve said. This also gives them an opportunity to clarify anything you’ve misunderstood

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Another great way to listen actively is to ask open and leading questions, or ask for clarification about something you’re confused about. If you’re asking questions, it means that you’re interested in the responses, making the speaker feel comfortable and “listened to.”

Beware of your non-verbal cues

Tapping your fingers, giving a blank stare, checking your watch or smartphone or interrupting, are all things that can signal to the speaker that you’re not listening. If you’re lucky, the speaker simply shuts down, and you don’t get the information you might need. Worse case scenario is that your behavior damages your relationship with the speaker.

The challenge with these non-verbals is that many times we are doing them unconsciously. Find someone you trust and ask for some honest feedback on whether or not you exhibit any of these non-verbals. You can’t change something you’re not aware of.

Conclusion:  Not listening has far reaching implications. When we don’t listen, the speaker may feel invalidated and frustrated. They may conclude that we don’t care or that we don’t have the capacity to understand him. Either conclusion may be inaccurate and lead the speaker to take actions we did not intend or desire.  A better option is to really work on becoming a better listener.

Bonus Content:  Wondering if you’re a good listener?  Take this quick quiz to test yourself.   Click Here to Get Your Quiz


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Teresa Wallace
President, Agility Leadership Coaching
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