Just Listen

I am fully aware that I talk too much.  I tend to over-explain things, repeating myself as if I don’t trust people to understand what I meant the first time I said it.  When I’m nervous, my go-to response is usually to babble on and on about nothing at all, until the person I’m talking to decides that I’m a complete idiot.  Even worse, when someone tells me about a problem, I barely wait until they stop talking before I start telling them exactly what they should do, completely ignoring the fact that they didn’t actually ask for my advice.  So believe me, I understand how much easier it is to talk than it is to listen.

It’s not that talking itself is such a bad thing.  We all have important information to share, and we all want our stories and opinions to be heard.  Sharing our thoughts and feelings allows other people to get to know who we really are, and it’s an essential part of forming the relationships that all people need.  But all that talking doesn’t do a bit of good if there isn’t anyone who is actually listening.

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I realize that someone isn’t listening to what I’m trying to say to them.  It makes me feel dismissed when someone interrupts a story I’m telling to launch into one of their own.  And it makes me feel diminished when I share something that I think is important and the other person just says, “Uh-huh,” and then brings up a completely different subject.  Nothing says “I don’t care what you have to say,” or even “I don’t care about you,” more effectively than not bothering to listen to someone.  Those kind of conversations don’t exactly build healthy relationships.

Which is what I need to remember the next time someone is talking to me.  Am I giving that person my full attention, and really trying to understand what he or she is saying to me?  Am I bothering to ask a question if I need to in order to make sure I get what they are talking about?  When our conversation is over, will that person feel as if he or she was truly heard?  Or will they feel the way so many of us do these days:  that it would have been just as effective to talk to a brick wall?

I think that talking will always come more naturally to me that listening, but listening has far better results.  Actually, it’s kind of amazing how much I can learn when I shut up and listen for a change.  I get genuine insights into how someone else thinks and feels, and a chance to develop deeper relationships with my friends and family.  I hear new facts and different ideas, and they broaden my horizons considerably.  (Also, the odds of me saying something stupid go way down when I’m not actually talking.)  The perks of listening are bountiful indeed.

I have come to believe that there’s a lot of truth in that old saying, “God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason.”  Because one way or another, it is almost always better to listen than to talk.

76 thoughts on “Just Listen

  1. Changing our habits is never easy. I think you have done the important first step which is to identify why you would want to spend more time actively listening to others. I relate to being a talker. I used to talk more than I listened. Now, I have created key questions that I can ask anyone I meet. If I ask a question at the beginning of a conversation it gets me started as a listener and I am often surprised by what I hear from others.

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    • Oddly enough, I think I was a better listener when I was younger. Maybe having kids made me feel the need to explain everything, all the time. But for whatever reason, I know I want to get much better at listening. Because I know how I feel when someone doesn’t listen to me, and I don’t want to do that to anyone else. I like the idea of key questions…I may have to borrow that one!

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  2. I have the same problem. I also speed talk my way through the awkward silence. I have days where I know when to listen, rather than pumping out unsolicited advice or “what I would do’s”, but it is excruciating to keep from jumping in when I see a solution. Ugh! I get it. I so get it. We mean well though, don’t we?

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    • We do mean well, and that’s what makes it so hard to stop! When I’m doing something that I know is wrong, it’s so much easier for me to stop it. But when I’m trying to help (or babbling on due to nerves), it’s so much harder to get control and just be quiet. But I think it is something I’ll get better at with time and effort.

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  3. Being fully present and intentionally listening can be such a challenge at times, but it is such a gift to give the other person AND yourself. I have a feeling you are a better listener than you give yourself credit for. 🙂

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    • Me, too, especially with my kids. I have a friend who once told me that when her kids started to tell her something, she would first ask, “Do you want my advice, or do you just need me to listen?” And their answer would tell her how to proceed. I wish I had thought of that!

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  4. So much truth here that I can totally relate to; I blame thirty years of being a teacher and constantly in ‘expain’ mode but I am pretty sure some of it is just my character bubbling out. Now I try to put a break on the babble and always think once, twice even three times before offering any advice so I am improving. What is interesting is that I see my daughter morphing into me!!

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    • It agree it is hard to curb our natural inclination to explain things (and in my case, offer advice), especially when we are in situations like being a parent or a teacher where explaining and guiding are a big part of the job! Slowly but surely, I’m trying to follow your example and think twice before I say something. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. An excellent article, Ann! What is the difference between listening and hearing? The former is much harder to do. Very few people do it at all. What does listening entail that hearing does not? Reading between the lines; hearing the unsaid. Why do we not hear the unsaid; why do we not listen? Because we are preoccupied with hearing our own voice in our own head.

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    • That’s a very good point! Before we can really listen, we have to stop being preoccupied with our own thoughts and opinions, and that’s not the last bit easy. And when we just “hear” without turning of our own voice, then we are also filtering whatever someone else is saying through our own preconceptions, which also means we aren’t listening to their true intent. The older I get, the more I realize what a gift it is to have someone who listen to me, and that makes me also realize that I want to give others that gift as well.

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    • “Pen to Paper” made the same comment! But you know, I think we need to cut teachers a bit of slack on that, as I’m sure it’s hard to completely drop the teacher mode when you step out of the classroom. Heck, listening is hard for all of us, even those who don’t have jobs that require guiding other people.

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  6. We all want to be heard. Whether we are a natural chatterer or a more quiet person, when we open up & share, we just want to be heard. To me, being a good listener is a gift. Thankfully, I a few of them in my life!

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  7. Great advice! I know I’m guilty of much of this – though not, I think, of jumping in with advice before the person has a chance to say what they are thinking of doing, mainly because I’ve been trying to train my husband not to do this for 36 years. Those who know me might tell you something different of course ……

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    • Thanks! And you know, the thing that has made me most aware of my habit of talking (or simply “hearing”) when I should be listening, is experiencing that myself when someone isn’t listening to me. I found myself getting annoyed and kind of hurt, and then I just realized, “Hey, you do this to other people!” So then I realized I need to be much more aware of the many times when I need to shut up and listen. And I’m hoping it become a habit.

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  8. As a retired teacher I am still in the habit of lecturing people and also still need to learn when I have said enough. You insightful post reminds me of the German proverb: Reden ist Silber, Schweigen ist Gold, which translates into English: Talk is silver, silence is golden. Very good advice for all of us, dear Ann!

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  9. Lol…I loved your post but especially that first paragraph. And I know what you mean about people who do the uh huh thing when you’re talking. I tend to ignore those people after that. I figure if you’re not interested in my thoughts I have none in yours.
    You must be fun when you get in a talking roll..:)

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  10. Great post! I can relate to the part that I get interapted before I finish my thoughts because someone wants to share thier part…..And before you know it you wonder how did we get to that subject…..:)

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    • Thanks Svet! And isn’t it so annoying when people do that? It makes me wonder if I was being really boring, or if they were just that eager to get into their story. Either way, it’s not a warm and fuzzy moment!

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  11. Hmm… So you’ve had the experience of patiently saying something to someone and then being answered in a way that shows the other person wasn’t listening at all. You haven’t been talking to my kids, have you?

    Anyway, you make a great point as you always do, Ann. Listening–really listening–is important.

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    • Oh, yes, I think all of us who are parents have had this experience, more times than we can count! Although if we ever blurt something out we’d rather they didn’t hear, they pick right up on that, don’t they? LOL!
      Thanks for the comment, Bun. Enjoy your blogging break and know that we will be here when you return. And best of luck with the new job!

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  12. Being the quiet type, talking too much isn’t a big problem for me, but I admit when I’m explaining something I tend to go into gruesome detail that has caused more than one pair of eyes to glaze over. Too many years as a coder I guess, gotta get all those nitty gritty details in. And sometimes my eyes glaze over to near cataract levels when listening to others spiel too. I guess we can only do our best.

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    • I agree, we can only do our best. This morning I was asked to help some of the shelter volunteers from a different location learn how we do things at our shelter, and more than once as I was talking, I saw those glazed over eyes….

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  13. I’m extremely thankful in some respects that I’m so curious about people (some may say nosey!) – it means that I’ve become quite good at listening as I’ve got older – I love to learn about things and people wherever I can. It’s also helped me to assess whether the person I’m talking to is willing to listen if I have advice for them. I think that’s one of the reasons I trained to be a life coach (I was, quite frankly, too lazy to go through all the necessary learning for psychiatry!) That said, I’m pretty sure I could give you a run for your money when it comes to babbling in the interview stakes 😉

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    • Frustrating when that babbling happens, isn’t it? But I’m glad you’ve mastered the art of listening. I’m still working at it, but I do think (hope) I’m improving. Thanks for the comment!

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  14. Let’s just say, the people in my family are very verbal. Whenever you get two of us together, you have three or more opinions and it not unusual for me to argue with myself for lack of a sibling.

    My wife prefers to think before she speaks. Still, we get along and every couple has “their” song, our is “When you say nothing at all.”

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    • Sounds very much like the family I was raised in! And I think that it is a good idea when a “talker” marries a “non-talker.” Then everyone has their own little niche, and they compliment one another nicely. Although I do love your song!

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  15. I know a couple of people who do the “aha” thing and then carry on talking about themselves. It’s definitely not conducive to a healthy friendship. Me, I’m more of a listener, though it depends on who I’m with! It’s a fine balance we need between listening and talking isn’t it?

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  16. An important reminder. I did some oral history projects with my relative who lived through the Great Depression and WWII, and the relief they showed at actually telling their story, of having it recorded and transcribed, was incredible. It was like I was validating their whole life, which made it a huge responsibility.

    In a church group, I was struck all over again how people really want to talk about their lives, how important it is to have people listen, even in a circle situation where everyone’s just taking turns. Listening is truly one of the greatest gifts we can give in a world that seems to be filled with people aching to share their stories.

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    • I couldn’t agree more! People do want, and need, to tell their stories so we need to be willing to listen to that. I think for “senior citizens” it becomes even more important to know their stories have been heard, and I believe you are right, that it really is a validation. That was a wonderful gift you gave your relative!

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  17. This is such a good post. My mother used to say I talked just to hear myself talking. Add to that an attention deficit and I have to work really hard to listen. Giving someone my total attention without getting distracted is very difficult. Unless they are telling me something earth-shattering or deeply personal. I am empathetic and sympathetic, but need to be reminded to listen better at all times.I do value what my family and friends say. But I have to hear it. Thank you for the reminder.

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    • I think it is hard for all of us to truly listen, but it is probably especially hard for people with ADD. My guess is that your natural empathy and compassion shine through even so! I have a good friend who also has ADD, and although our conversations can take some odd turns, I never doubt that she understands me and cares for me. In fact, she is one of the people I consult when I need a bit of guidance. I bet your friends feel exactly the same way!

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      • That’s sweet ❤ Plus they know when they are telling me the horrors of their life, I will inadvertently give some comic relief when I notice the woman walking by with the odd-looking red coat.

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  18. Reading this post reminded me of a study that really resonated with me as a young surgeon (this was quite awhile ago, but I’m sure it’s still true today). On average, a patient speaks for less that 30 seconds before the surgeon interrupts and over the course of a 15-minute visit (prior to discussing a planned surgical procedure), the majority of the time is devoted to computer, pagers, and interruptions.
    I made a conscious effort to break this pattern (and instill the practice in residents). I’d like to think I usually made it a whole minute before interrupting…

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    • I bet you made it longer than that! But good for you for recognizing the problem and addressing it. Lots of doctors have trouble listening (probably because they don’t have that much time to spend with each patient) and I would imagine that it’s probably even harder for a surgeon. But you know, the thing I like best about my current doctor is that he not only listens, but when he talks, he does it in a way that I can actually understand him. And I’m not good with medical terms, particularly when I’m sick or injured and sitting all nervous in an exam room.

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