Are you Really Listening or Just Waiting to Speak?

If we are honest, we will all admit there are times when we don’t listen well. Our attention may drift off onto another subject and then come back to the person we are supposed to be listening to. How many times has a misunderstanding occurred because we have not listened intently enough, or the other person has not heard and understood what we are trying to say?

Good listening is key to understanding a situation and other people and is perhaps the most important skill for communicating, influencing, resolving differences and finding good solutions.

We are continuously bombarded with huge amounts of information, far more than we can take in through our five senses. So we filter what seems relevant to us at any one time. The information we take in through our senses is filtered through our beliefs – the way we interpret information will be affected by our beliefs and values, we may distort the message and only hear part of it, or we may interpret it differently to the way the transmitter intended it.

Stephen Covey identifies five levels of listening:

Level 1 – Ignoring

Level 2 – Pretending – ‘uh, huh, yeah’, nodding etc. whilst remaining focussed elsewhere

Level 3 – Selective Listening – Most of us do this a lot. Next time someone begins to talk, check whether you are agreeing or disagreeing, planning what you will say in reply, or thinking about what you could have said before that would have been better.

In general, we start thinking about our response while the other person is speaking. It goes like this. Whilst doing these other activities we can’t listen fully.

Listen react slide

Level 4 – Attentive listening – Attentive listening without interruption, will give you good information about what the person is saying and thinking. Listen to the words they use, reflect their words back to them, summarise and clarify to ensure you have got a clear understanding.

Level 5 – Empathic listening – Listening intently without interrupting, in order to understand how they feel and think. You need to concentrate on the words they use, their body language, and their tones of voice. The words may not be saying quite the same as the message that you are getting through other means. Empathic listening involves giving people your full attention and concentration and can feel quite intense.

What levels of listening do you use? Observe yourself in different situations and do an honest check on how well you are listening.

Listening Tips

Body Language

  • Calm your body language
  • Give your full attention
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Face the other person
  • Lean towards them
  • Assume a relaxed position
  • Nod, positively
  • Make sure you can hear


  • Keep comments to a minimum
  • Make encouraging noises
  • Confirm and clarify when necessary


  • Don’t judge or show emotion
  • Try to understand all viewpoints
  • Be sensitive
  • Allow the other person to express their emotion – if stifled it may damage quality of thinking
  • Take notes if necessary
  • Try and keep your own emotions in check
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