I Heard You Say…

Some tips for practicing active listening

Kayla Douglas
Jun 17 · 5 min read
Photo by Marko Pekić on Unsplash

“Mom, what are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m just playing Sudoku on my phone while we talk.”

I talk to my mom on the phone once every month or two. I live half a planet away so the time difference is tricky and she is incredibly busy. It’s no wonder she needs to multitask. I can’t blame her. Or can I?


It’s not that she hurt my feelings by not giving me her undivided attention. I learned a long time ago that I control my reactions to other people’s actions.

So I didn’t hang up on her or yell at her, I just calmly continued the conversation. In a few minutes, I ended it because I knew the next time we talked, she wouldn’t remember what I was saying anyway.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
― M. Scott Peck

When you are engaged in back and forth communication, it’s important to be on your game. You need to be listening to every word, paying attention to tone, body language, and gestures.

While talking on the phone it’s like playing with a disadvantage. You don’t have the visual so you should really be listening carefully to the other person. Reflecting back or verifying what you heard is one way to be sure you are listening carefully. This can be as simple as, “I heard you say….”


Active listening is a deliberate choice that demands focus and attention. It is not the same as passively hearing the words coming through the phone. If our attention is not on listening, later on, we may find we can’t remember what was said. That is not because we have bad memories, its because we were never paying attention in the first place!

We tend to only retain the information from a conversation that we needed to formulate our response. Not everyone will retain the same details. The solution is to stop formulating your response while the other person is talking and focus on actively listening.

Active listening can improve your relationships at work when you demonstrate to your colleagues that you respect them and take the time to listen. It can also help in personal relationships since it improves communication and increases understanding of your partner or friends.

Here are some simple tips for active listening

When you are speaking to another human being, you should not be looking at a screen. Try to avoid distracting settings for conversations where you need to practice active listening.

If you are speaking to someone on the phone, put yourself in a quiet space. It’s best to eliminate as much background noise as possible and also stay where you will not be tempted to scroll through your Facebook or check your emails.

The fact that they can’t see you doing it doesn’t mean it’s not rude.

Stop the voice in your head that is rehearsing your response. It may sound like, “tell them about that time… or give them advice on how to….”

Those thoughts on not helpful and when we are entertaining them, we have switched off from listening to what they are saying since we have already decided on what they need to hear.

Image by pixel2013 from Pixabay

Remove your judgment from the conversation. That means stop trying to solve the “problem” and just listen. What you see as the problem may not be what they actually want to address.

My mom likes to tell me about the latest series she saw on Netflix. A few minutes later she may transition to telling me how stressed she is with meeting the deadline for her university classes. It’s easy to pass judgment on what is causing the problem.

But if I judge before listening, I may completely miss the point she is trying to make. Often, her issue is that she doesn’t know how to say “no” to her supervisors at work and spends way more time working than watching Nextflix.

Stop fact-finding. Don’t try to dig up details to put the pieces together for the person you are talking to. When you do, it’s obvious you are just digging for dirt.

When you are playing detective, you ask pointed questions to try to prove your theory instead of listening to their overall message. Once you focus in on something, its easier for the other person to also become focused on that and you end up manipulating the conversation unintentionally.

The result is, instead of learning more about them you are imposing your view on them.

When you believe your view is the correct one, it closes you off to being open to others’ views and opinions.

Have you ever talked to someone who will stop you mid-sentence and tell you, “No, you’re wrong.”

I have, and on the one hand, I appreciate they tell me out loud so that I know there is no longer any point in trying to get through to them.

On the other hand, it’s annoying that they are so biased they can’t consider another point of view. Don’t be a person that does that in your head and shuts off from listening to your friend, colleague, or partner. It won’t lead to any positive results.

How often do you receive advice in casual conversation that is valuable to you?

Unless they are recommending a restaurant or a dentist, I’d say its unlikely someone you know can tell you how to live your life. You are the expert on your life. So whoever you are listening to isn’t likely to benefit from your, “what I would do is…” scenario.

Instead of giving advice, try reflecting back what you heard. For example, my mom tells me a long story about how every time she makes plans with the family, she gets called to work extra hours.

Instead of telling her, “Just say no!” I say, “It sounds to me like you don’t feel you are spending enough time at home with your family.”

Reflecting back can lead to the other person feeling more understood and sharing more information with you. She may even come to her own conclusion that it might be good to set some boundaries!

Active Listening in Daily Life

Active listening isn’t just important on the phone. It should be practiced at all times. If you are interested in being supportive to your loved ones, check out this article by Bridget Webber.

If you want to know more about how active listening could benefit you at work and for your own personal development, read this great piece by Elle Kaplan.

When you use active listening in your day to day life, it becomes a habit. You will be surprised to see how much more you learn about the people around you when you actively listen.

Originally published at https://www.kaylamdouglas.com.

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Kayla Douglas

Written by

Life Coach, author, lifelong learner, travel enthusiast, narcolepsy advocate, living in Myanmar, she/her https://www.kaylamdouglas.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +540K people. Follow to join our community.

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