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"Hello...can you hear me?!" When did we stop listening?

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

Listening. We do it day in, day out. We hear sounds around us, all day, every day. But how often are we truly listening? As babies, it is the first sense we develop, even before we’re born. We begin hearing sounds when we’re in the womb. So you’d think we’d be pretty good at it by now. But are we?

When I was training, I strongly recall an exercise we were instructed to carry out very early on in the course. We had to partner up, and allow our partner to talk about a topic of their choosing for five minutes while we listened intently without saying a word. Nothing! It’s easier than it sounds. In that five minutes (which felt like forever), I felt the urge to constantly interject, to ask questions about their story, seek clarification and to add in my own experiences. Sitting back and simply listening was actually quite hard. I was also very aware of myself in those five minutes - self-conscious of my body language (am I too still or too fidgety), of my eye contact, of nodding all in reassurance too much or too little. I was relieved when it was all over to be honest and I could get back to my version of listening....

So, what did I glean from this exercise? I’d previously considered myself as a good listener; that I was there for my friends, and I listened to my team members’ and colleagues’ worries with intent. But all these years, have I just been preoccupied with what I was going to say in that moment?

So often in situations, rather than listening to what is being said, we’re distracted by our own thoughts of what we want to say, to offer our advice on a similar issue that we have experienced or to ask more questions before the other person has finished speaking. Why do we think that what we have to say is more important than what they are trying to voice?

Most of the time we hear, but are we really listening? When a friend calls for a chat, how often are you doing something else at the same time - taking that as an opportunity to multi-task and do two things at the same time?

When a colleague comes into your office for advice, are you really hearing what they say or are you distracted with thinking about all the other things you should be getting on with?

When someone talks to you, are you subconsciously going through a to-do list in your head, making judgements or day dreaming? When your partner is trying to chat with you, are you ‘listening’ whilst watching TV at the same time?

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

Listening has become a dying art. Our daily lives are so full that we are so overloaded and pulled in all directions. Our attention is sought from all angles. So much so that, when it comes to actual listening, it has become difficult to focus and so we take it as an opportunity to also do something else at the same time, hoping the other person won’t notice.

And this is common. We all do it and have severely got out of practice of really listening to each other. It is a skill we need to reignite in our day to day lives. Not only is listening to another human’s thoughts a great honour, but being listened to yourself is a real gift.

Becoming aware of how you listen is insightful in itself and I challenge you to notice where your head is at when you’re next in conversation with someone. If you’re up for going one step further, why not try the listening exercise above - either in your personal life or at work - and let me know what you notice in that moment.

Coaching gives you a unique space where you will be listened to. Get in touch with me if you wish to be listened to by emailing


Gemma Brown is a certified coach who works with successful women, 1-2-1 and in groups, to identify their strengths and build confidence which enables them to have the self-belief to fearlessly bring their whole being into all areas of life. Gemma is based in Cambridgeshire and carries out face to face coaching in the area as well as 1-2-1 coaching via Skype and Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page.

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1 Comment

Really interesting post Gemma. Ive always thought I’m a good listener, but often guilty of have my eyes, ears and brain on different things! I’m going to try this exercise for myself and will let you know how I find it. x

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