Fundamental basis of communication – LISTEN up!

How often do you find yourself talking to someone who is typing a text or email while they “listen”?  A spouse who is thumbing through a magazine while you share the details of your day, or a girlfriend who is flipping through her phone as you are telling her something that happened to you.   Sometimes people will even leave their ear buds in, listening to music while someone is speaking to them.  How does this feel when you need to talk to your director about an issue at work?  He/she has an open door policy so you walk in.  They are busy responding to email and don’t stop when you arrive.  How well do you think they are able to listen to you?

Now let’s say you have something really important you want to discuss.  How do you feel when you really want this certain person to listen to you and you aren’t sure they will because of the other tasks they are completing?   For all you parents, how many of you continue to make meals, pack lunches, email, text, complete any number of tasks that need completing while “listening” to your kids?  How much are you actually hearing? How much are you really listening to what is being said?   And how do you think this is making them feel?

Listening is the fundamental basis to how we communicate, yet most of the people we ask “how often do you feel really listened to?” state sometimes or very rarely.  Most people are aware when others aren’t listening to them and find it rude, disrespectful and/or frustrating.  Similarly, they have admitted they don’t always listen to others and many times aren’t really aware of what others have told them.  So, if listening is the fundamental basis to how we communicate, what does this say about how well we are communicating with others?

So often we don’t give our full attention to a conversation and don’t focus on really listening to what is being said.  Most parents would say they hear very little of what their kids have to say when they are performing their multitude of tasks.  What is one to do? Here are some basic tools to help better understand how to really listen:


We get a lot of feedback from clients who say that when they are busy and need to get things done, they don’t have time to stop and listen, “how do I tell them I don’t have time?”.   If you don’t have the time in the moment to stop and listen to what is being said, schedule a mutually agreed upon time to do it later.  Acknowledge that you really want to hear what the speaker has to say and ask for 5 minutes or 5 hours to complete an email, make a phone call, or finish a task.  This will allow the speaker to have the listener’s undivided attention.  Stopping what we are doing and giving our full attention to the speaker messages respect for the person and value for what they have to say.  Sometimes as the speaker we also need to make a request of the person who will be listening, one in which we ask them to put down their other tasks and really listen to what we have to say.


Listening isn’t just verbal.  In fact, words make up a very small piece of listening.  Your body language, tone of voice and other messaging all play a huge role in what your message and how it is heard.  Check your body language, are you abrupt or gentle in your movements, making eye contact or staring into space, rigid or open in facial expressions, harsh or soft in tone of voice.  All of these play a large part in how the message is sent that you are seeing and wanting to understand the person.


Another distraction we all experience at times is the chatter in our heads.  We all have this chatter that competes for our attention with the person we are supposed to be listening to.  Who is going to win this competition – your head or you? First, be aware of the chatter and the reasons it is coming up for you?  What are you forgetting, haven’t done or need to do?  How can you take care of it in a way that allows you do to dim down the noise so you can really listen to what is being said by the person who is talking to you?

Developing an awareness around listening; being in the moment, stopping what you are doing, focusing on what the other is saying, being aware of body language, and turning off the voices in your head, all require focus.  Building relationships personally and professionally are an integral part of life.   So much of what we do and how we do it is based on the relationships that we build.  How are we able to build them if we aren’t able to listen?   For parents, how can we expect our kids to listen to us if we don’t listen to them?  How we show up as ‘listening’ parents models what is acceptable for them as ‘listening’ kids? For leaders, how can we expect those we lead to listen to ideas or follow direction if we aren’t open to listening to them?  As the saying goes, people do what we do, not what we say.  How are you going to show up differently?

For those who missed it, here is the article on 3 levels of listening.  More tools to help you be aware of how well you listen.  What level are you on most of the time?

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Published article “Health Care Professionals: Learning A Different Conversation”

Check out Kathy’s article ‘Health Care Professionals: Learning a Different Conversation’ published in this months The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations.
This article first appeared in IJCO The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations™ (2011, 8(3), 71-78). It is distributed with prior permission of Professional Coaching Publications, Inc. (PCPI). Email John B. Lazar at for such permission.
How would learning a different conversation change your organization?   How can you show up differently to support that?
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