Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Most of Us Don’t Know How To Listen

Dena Warfield
Apr 7 · 8 min read

Worst Day Possible

My day was one of the worst I had ever had. It seemed like I was cursed or something. My car was sideswiped on the way to work, nothing major, but it will still need to be repaired.

When I got to work I remembered I was supposed to be there an hour early for a special meeting that I missed. I started working on my new project only to realize that the information I needed to create this new app was given out in the meeting that I missed.


The Poser

I walked up to my boss’s desk and before I said a word he said, “Well, I guess you’ll have to see if someone will give you the information you missed.”

“This is going to be fun,” I said out loud to myself. App creation was a cut-throat business. Nobody was going to be willing to give me the information or at least the correct information. My best friend worked in this department also, maybe she’d help me. I took my laptop to her desk.

“Jenny, would you help me?” I asked. “Please. My car got hit this morning on the way to work. I really need your help.”

Jenny looked at me with an expression on her face that she really didn’t want to help or perhaps she was thinking about her own project. At times I thought she appeared to be listening by nodding her head with an occasional one-word comment. But, I wasn’t sure as I asked her a question.

“Can you explain to me how this particular code works? I don’t really understand it,” I said noticing that she was looking at her computer screen. “Jenny?”

“I’m really sorry you had an accident this morning. I really have to get back to work.” She turned to her computer, pulling up a program as if I wasn’t even there.

I walked back to my desk. It was all I could do to keep the tears back. I sat down at my desk, and lowered my head to my arms on my desk, “Lord, please help me. I can’t afford to lose this job and if Jenny won’t help me I don’t know what to do.”

“Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.” — Skills You Need


Levels of Listening

Not listening

This type of listening happens when we expend zero effort to listen. The listener does not even try to focus on what the speaker is saying.


Pretend Listening

The Poser — pretending to listen, giving the appearance of listening. It’s very easy to pretend to be listening, to be a ‘poser’. You make good eye contact or nod occasionally and throw in a few well-placed affirming words such as, “yeah”, “really” or “wow”. A person may be able to pull this off — at least in public. You may even have yourself convinced that you’re listening.

“I know I missed the meeting, but I was in an accident on the way to work,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Jenny said.

“I really need your help with this assignment. I’m not sure what to do with this code.”

“Really,” Jenny said while continuing to look at her computer screen.

“Jenny,” I said.

She looked at me as if she didn’t realize I was still sitting there.

“I have to get back to work,” Jenny said.

I realized she was just a poser, pretending to listen.


Selective Listener

“Selective listening, or selective attention, is the phenomenon that occurs when we only see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. It’s a type of mental filtering in which we tune out someone’s opinions or ideas when they don’t line up with ours. This isn’t just a bad habit or rude behavior.”

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was involved in a car accident on my way to work,” I said to my boss, Mr. Shroeder.

“Yup, you’re late. Hope somebody’s willing to help you,” he said as he turned and walked away.


Autobiographical Listening

Autobiographical listening in that the focus is being switched to something about the listener instead of what the speaker is saying. Even if what the listener says isn’t directly about him/herself, the motive in listening is autobiographical — hijack the conversation and switch topics.

Autobiographical listening involves asking questions, advising or fixing, interpreting, introducing new topics and/or leading the conversation in a different direction. These responses can be appropriate if the listener had really taken the time to listen to what was being said.

“I know I missed the meeting, but I was in an accident on the way to work,” I said. “Can you please help me with the code for this project?”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“You should have been here this morning. The demonstration they gave was awesome. The guy from IT that taught the class was so cute. He asked me out for lunch. I just can’t wait,” Jenny said

Image by Geralt from Pixabay

Active Listening

Active listening is a skill that can be learned and mastered. It involves listening with all senses.

As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening by showing nonverbal signs of listening, such as, smiling, eye contact, posture, mirroring, avoiding distraction.

They also use verbal messages such as saying ‘yes’ or ‘Mmm hmm’. If the speaker does not receive verbal and nonverbal messages they may conclude that the listener is uninterested in what is being said.

Active listening is paying attention to what is said then basically mimicking what the speaker said. Active listening is a technique that is used in counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts.

It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

This kind of listening is skill-based and often insults those being “listened” to. It’s like parroting the words back to the speaker without any processing or understanding.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was involved in a car accident on my way to work,” I said to my boss, Mr. Shroeder.

“Yes, you were late. I do understand that you were involved in a car accident,” he said. “But, you were told that you needed to be here an hour early, is that correct?”

“Mmm hmm,” nodding in agreement. “Is there any way I can get the information from the meeting?”

“The instructions were to be here an hour early,” he said as he walked away.

The listener has shown that he/she was paying attention. This response still is not empathic.


Reflective Listening

Reflecting is different than active listening in that the listener paraphrases and restates both the feelings and words of the speaker. The purpose of reflecting is to allow the speaker to ‘hear’ their own thoughts and focus on what they say and feel.

The listener shows the speaker that he/she is trying to perceive the world as the speaker sees it, trying to understand. It also encourages the speaker to continue.

Reflective listening helps the speaker feel understood and it give them the opportunity to focus their ideas.

The process can be done with Mirroring, which involves repeating back to the speaker almost exactly what he/she said. And Paraphrasing can also be used which involves using other words to reflect what the speaker has said. It shows that you are listening and processing to understand.

“I know I missed the meeting, but I was in an accident on the way to work. Can you help me with the code? I just don’t understand it,” I said.

“You did miss the meeting. You were in an accident? Yes, the code is hard to understand when you weren’t in the meeting,” Jenny said.


Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening is seeking first to understand, to really understand. You listen to get inside another person’s frame of reference. It’s like trying to see through their eyes, to see the world the way they see it, to truly understand their frame of reference. It is listening with all of our faculties, plus our heart and mind.

The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually. Empathic listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said.

Empathic listening involves attempting to understand the feelings and emotions of the speaker — to put yourself into the speaker’s shoes and share their thoughts.


The Listener

I felt a touch on my shoulder. As I raised my head I notice Amy, the new girl in the office. “I didn’t mean to be listening, but I heard about your accident this morning. Are you okay? Were you hurt? How’s your car?” Amy Asked.

I dried my eyes with my sleeve and looked at Amy as she sat in the chair beside my desk. “I’m a little shaken, but I’m not hurt. I was able to drive my car to work, but they may total it. There’s a lot of damage to the driver’s side. According to Mr. Shroeder, I may not even have a job if I can’t figure out the code,” I said, tears starting to form in my eyes again.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your car. You don’t need to worry. Mr. Shroeder gave these cards out,” she said handing me a card. “It will answer all your questions about the code. Don’t worry about it. You’ve got this,” Amy said as she turned and walked back to her desk.


Listening For Feeling

Originally published at www.denawarfield.com on April 7, 2019.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Dena Warfield

Written by

MFA, MA Psychology-Human Behavior - Certified Life Coach — Weaving truth into stories that help with personal struggles and faith in God.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.