Hear, Listen and Attend

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”  ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

When I was young, I was partially deaf. This was due to a number of problems with wax and my sinuses. A couple of operations later and I could hear. Not perfectly, but well enough not to consider it a disability throughout my life.

As a result, it has made me very aware of the sounds around me; the conversations that take place and the discussions that I am involved in. Does this mean I am good at hearing things? I try very hard to hear and can on occasions ask for something to be repeated if I fail to hear what is said. This most often happens in a crowded place with multiple people chatting away.

Does this mean I am a good listener? Nope!

I know that on occasions, whilst I might be hearing what is being said, I can zone out of the conversation; perhaps thinking of the answer I want to give; perhaps thinking of a parallel topic, or sometimes my mind just wanders off. Then all of a sudden, the person that is talking will stop and you realise that they have asked a question and you have no idea what was asked.


The comment “Were you listening to what I was saying?” means they know you were not listening.

There is a distinct difference in hearing and listening. The dictionary definitions are as follows (via Oxford English Dictionary):

hear (verb)   perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)

listen (verb)    give one’s attention to a sound

There is a distinct difference between the two:

  • “I hear you” to me means I understand the emotion you are trying to convey.
  • “I am listening to you”  to me, means taking in what the person is saying. Really, hearing what is being said i.e. “listening and understanding”.

I think back to the comment that was made to me “Were you listening to what I was saying?”, actually, means more than just hearing what was said. It really means, did I take in what was being said and did I understand its underlying reasons.

The next time you are involved in a conversation with someone, really listen to what they are saying, rather than just hearing the sound of the words floating around you.

You might want to try active listening. Active listening is a set of tools and techniques to help you be more effective. Some active listening techniques include:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Demonstrating concern.
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding.
  • Nonverbal cues which show understanding such as nodding, eye contact and leaning forward.
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand.”
  • Asking open-ended questions.
  • Asking specific questions to seek clarification.
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion.
  • Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding

Here are some examples of statements and questions employed with active listening:

  • Building Trust and Establishing Rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.”
  • Demonstrating Concern: “I am eager to help you; I know you are going through some tough challenges.”
  • Paraphrasing: “So, you are saying that the uncertainty about who will be your new supervisor is creating stress for you.”
  • Brief Verbal Affirmation: “I understand that you would like more frequent feedback about your performance.” “Thank you. I appreciate your time in speaking to me.”
  • Asking Open-Ended Questions:  “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”

Give one of them a try. You might notice a difference.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Getting caught out not listening


“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Ok. I’ll admit it. It was me.   

What on earth are you talking about Summerhayes? Have you finally lost the plot? Gone off the rails? Decided to enter the loony bin? Nope. I am admitting something, I’ve always kept hidden.

For year and years.

I didn’t listen and focus on the conversation.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. However, for years, I have had this habit of appearing to listen whilst doing something else. For example, I often, read something one e:mail as I speak to someone face-2-face. At work, I will sit in meetings and whilst someone is talking, I will be checking emails, responding to queries and the like.

Hang on though. Everyone does it, don’t they?

You see many people doing the same thing. They will be reading something on their laptops, whilst at the same time, appearing to be in a conversation.

It has become a habit to many people. A habit that is both unhelpful to me, but worse, impacts those around me.

So how do you try to fix it?

I am striving to change the way I listen and interact with people. I have come up with an eight-point an eight-point Check out my ideas below:

Point 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
From that moment on, I have locked my laptop; put my mobile phone down and faced the speaker. How on earth do you think they feel if you are looking at everything but them?

Point 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Be present with the person and give attention to what they are saying. After all, it is important to them. I am mentally screening out distractions, like background activity and noise. It helps in my case that I wear glasses. I have even taken them off, so that I can “see” the person, rather than all the other distractions in the room. Don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases and pay attention to them.

Point 3: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.

Point 4: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions” on them.
I can not count the number of times, I have interrupted someone and made a suggestion to solve a problem. It has been one of my “traits” for years and I have grown to hate doing it. We all think and speak at different rates – the average person utters anywhere from 125 to 175 words per minute. However, we can read upwards of 500 to 700 words per minute. Hence, a really clear reason why we end up “zoning out”. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—or for the person who has trouble expressing himself.

When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want your advice anyway. If they do, they would ask for it. Most people prefer to figure out our their solutions to their problems.

Point 5: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask any clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the person to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the person pauses. Then say something like, “Hang on a moment, I didn’t quite understand what you just said about…”

Point 6: Ask questions to ensure understanding.
Be careful of asking questions that take people down “rat holes”. Our questions can lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don’t.

When you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track by rephrasing the last part of their conversation. In effect, getting them to reset where they are in their thought processes.

Point 7: Empathy. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when they express joy, fearful when they describe their fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.

finally and the most difficult point is, Point 8: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what they say worries you, go ahead and feel worried, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental thoughts, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.

Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.

I have found that I need to keep my “feedback” to myself. I have learnt to pause, before responding and sometimes replay back to the speaker a summary of what they have said, both to show that I have listened, as well as to cross check my understanding.


Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment and share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” ― Roy T. Bennett

The beauty of Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I love when the extended family gets together. The vibe and the feeling of being together is wonderful. As a family of daughters – I have two and my brother has three – this means that there is always lots of chatter, discussion and often happy laughter. Generally, at the dad’s expense!

This Christmas, was the first opportunity for all of us to be together over a few days and the atmosphere was relaxed, gentle, but at the same time very, very noisy. I am not sure if it is modern trend, but teenagers tend to talk “at one another”, rather than “talk with one another”. Group talks tended to be noisy, rowdy affairs. With little, or no possibility or reflective dialogue and discussion, I felt that topics tended to be glossed over, rather than understood and agreed with. But, hey, that’s only my opinion. And the girls loved being together.

Whilst, I loved having all of the family around, it also made me appreciate the quiet times when everyone was out of the house doing “their thing”.

The near complete silence.

No one talking. No TV. No music. No radio. No phones ringing. Strangely, even my grandmother’s chiming clock that hangs in the dining room  had stopped.

I had no desire to fill up the silence with noise. Rather I was able to sit and practice mindfulness. Focusing on my breath, I even was able to “hear” my heart beating. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is amazing. The time seemed to flow by.

Then people came back into the house, chattering away. Noise levels returned to normal.

When was the last time you were in an environment where there was complete, total, silence?

Apart from our lives being full on, with so many distractions, I have come to realise that, we have even filled up our worlds with noise. Perhaps we are afraid of the silence? I am not sure. But if you do get a chance to “turn down the volume” on your life’s noise, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I was out walking and reflecting on this article, when  I realised that it reminded me of one of my favorite songs from the 1980’s by Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence”. Here is a YouTube video of the official video from that era.


I leave you with the following quote…….

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

Robert Frost


Depression in Teenagers and Perceptual Positions

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” ― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

I listened to a recent radio programme that talked about the top issues facing teenagers today. As a parent to two teenage girls (plus the 10’s that are extended members of the family and frequently stay), I get to see first hand the pressures that they face. Apart from the normal teen issues of relationships, drugs and alcohol, one of the biggest issues they face is the constant need to look and feel good. This, plus all the other issues means that depression in teenagers is on the increase. Some interesting facts:

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression
  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression
  • 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).
  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s

Depression needs to be taken seriously and treated properly by professionals and I certainly would not make suggestions on how to treat depression itself.

However, what I can help with is how people engage and talk to one another. Over a recent extended evening meal with the girls and their friends, the conversation turned to how to engage with people in difficult and challenging situations that can lead to depression. There is a skilled technique you can use to help people work through issues. It’s called Perceptual Positions, the skill of adopting more points of view than your own in an organized way. So why use this technique?:

# It improves your understanding of yourself and how you interact with other people.

# It enables you to think more flexibly and creatively, especially when confronted by difficult situations.

# It provides an opportunity to stand back and consider issues dispassionately without taking sides

# Helps you appreciate the influence of your verbal and nonverbal behaviour on others, and the influence of their behaviour on you.

So we discussed how to do the 3 position model and this is the summary…..

1st Perspective

This is what everyone does, you see the situation through your own eyes. The issue is you do not consider the others needs. you  are selfish, even to yourself. Run through the issue or interaction. Pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings. Consider your own needs.

2nd Perspective

Imagine what it is like to be the other person. Put yourself in their shoes – as if you are looking back at yourself, seeing, hearing, and feeling as the other person. How is ‘you over there’ coming across to “you over here”? Are you in rapport with you? Are they respecting you? Is he/she taking your views into account? Are you listening or just verbalising your own needs?

3rd Perspective

Take a detached viewpoint. This is THE most difficult position to take and takes practice to do. Imagine you are looking at yourself and the other person ‘over there’ – seeing the two of them speaking, articulating, facial expressions, etc. Pay particular attention to nonverbal behaviour such as the body language and the sound of their voices. Then consider, as a result of taking this view, what advice you wish to give ‘yourself’ about how you are handling the situation.

The 2nd Time Round

Now repeat the process using the insights and advice from the Round 1. Run through it with the new behaviours – first as yourself, then as the other person, and finally the detached 3rd view.

Finally, think of upcoming events in which these insights may be useful. Mentally run through these while imagining that you are incorporating your new learning. You will suddenly begin to realise that in most of the situations you were in before, you were acting in 1st position, maybe, sometimes in 2nd, but very rarely in 3rd.

Try it, you might be positively surprised at the results…..

Further information on depression in Teenagers:


I leave you with the following quote:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”  Stephen Fry

Mindfulness and it’s impact on how you speak

“Sometimes when I’m talking, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak. Probably so we can think twice.” ― Bill Watterson

I have just completed an extended Mindfulness diploma and one of the sections of the programme really struck a chord with me. Many of the mindfulness programmes that I have come across talk about the self, both internal as well as external. The internal thoughts and feelings you have, as well as how you relate to those in the outside world and how you react to them. This was the first programme where there was a section on Mindful Speech.What on earth is that you might ask?

As well as listening mindful, we can also have the intention to speak in a mindful way. Just as the words, phrases and intonation of the words and phrases spoken to us can have an impact on us, so too can the words, phrases and intonation of the words and phrases we say to others mindlessly, hurt and offend others.

so if we are to bring to the way we speak, by expanding the way we use mindfulness in the way we currently think, there are a number of key aspects to the approach we need to take. Firstly, we need to absolutely be in active listening mode. Active listening is the process where by you listen to others and NOT, I repeat NOT, half way through or even sooner, you have a thought in your head on how to answer the person. I will follow up with an article on Active Listening as it is so important to both work and life.
Thich Nhat Hanh has expanded the wording of the precept of Mindfulness Speaking in a wonderful way:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Before you speak, instead, think of:

T – is it True? Are you speaking the truth and reflecting the truth in the answer you give? Can you feel in your heart, that you are being truthful. I always say, the “truth will out” and even if you try to hide something, your mannerisms, the way you sound, even the way you are sitting, standing, leaning or moving, will indicate truth or lies.

H – is it Helpful? Are the words and phrases you are using helpful to the person and situation you are facing?

I – Is it Inspiring? Do the words inspire positiveness and confidence and a sense of compassion?

N – Is it Necessary? One of my favorites. We, as humans can not stand silence, so we seek to fill silence with noise and sounds. Music, speech, clicking, tapping, we all do it. I have been practicing the silent response now for a while and find that rather than letting my thoughts run ahead and my speech follow, rather allow myself to pause, reflect and then respond.

K – Is is Kind? Are you saying things and discussing in a kind, compassionate and empathetic manner? Are you saying things in a warm manner, without judgement; without anger; without abruptness.

Mindfulness speaking takes time, practice and an honest appreciation that people might find it strange if you change overnight.

As always, I leave you with a quote….

“In life, finding a voice is speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told. You will be heard.” John Grisham

Take the dummy out of your mouth and learn positive verbal communications

“How would your life be different if…You walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day…You speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Further to the recent article “Take the fluff out of your ears. What on earth is the benefit of Active Listening?” I’d like to follow up with by discussing one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. That is our ability to communicate verbally. There is a very famous, often quoted and argued over set of statistics that were developed by Professor Albert Mehrabian who pioneered the understanding of communications. He currently devotes his time to research, writing, and consulting as Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA. Mehrabian’s work featured strongly (mid-late 1900s) in establishing early understanding of body language and non-verbal communications.

The normal representation of Mehrabian’s findings is typically cited as follows:
7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression and body language.

If you think about the proportion of communication that you think you do, which is talking, and listening, you begin to realise that the words and phrases we speak, only account for 7% of the message we are sharing. 38% is the feelings and attitudes of the words that are said. So when I talked about the need to actively listen, this is where it comes into its own.

So what verbal communication techniques can you develop to help you?

Plan what you want and need to say: for those awkward silences with people you hardly know; and impromptu questions. Whether talking to a colleague or the boss; delivering a presentation; or trying to help someone non-technical understand technical information. You need to understand that a conversation is more than you just filling in those empty holes with words.

Put yourself in their shoes and energise your voice by remembering that a conversation is two-way; by understanding others, they will probably want to understand you. By thinking about the opposing viewpoint you may be able to understand and plan for some of the difficult questions or situations that may arise.

Showing interest and not interrupting will help to build rapport and trust with your audience, they are also more likely to want to listen to you too.

Minimise disruptions and distractions from our 24-7 always on, connected environment. Simply put your phone away or on silent; or if taking notes, looking up and making eye contact with the person, can vastly improve the way we communicate with each other.

Telling a story is one of the most powerful ways to activate your brain and engage your listener. You can paint a picture in your listeners’ minds; bringing your presentation to life; and turning a difficult subject into something interesting and understandable. THis is the approach I like to take. When I am presenting, I like to think of a maximum of three messages that I want to convey. I then state them at the front of the presentation, weave stories and anecdotes on these during the presentation and finish up by reiterating them at the end.

Finally, gestures and body language can be distracting and detract from, your message – you are constantly communicating even when you are not saying a word. THink back to the percentages at the top of the article – 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression and body language.Ask a colleague for some feedback on your non-verbal communication, it’s their perception of what you are doing, rather than saying. Does it add impact to your message, or does it detract from what you are trying to say?

Don’t forget to take the dummy out of your mouth. I leave you with the following quote.

“When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases ….. one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy, the appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved” ― George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Take the fluff out of your ears. What on earth is the benefit of Active Listening?

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” — Ralph Nichols

Customer service involves interacting with customers, positively engaging with them and having a dialogue. A dialogue involves at least two people and the conversation that happens means that you have to listen as well as speak. This is even more important if you are having that dialogue over the telephone where you can not see the reaction to the words that you are saying on the other persons face. This is whereactive listening comes into its own. By the way, active listening is one of the key skills that is needed and often used in change work. It is also used in conflict resolution and often in tense situations such as where there is a hostage. I would also suggest that the best doctors and consultants in the medical profession use active listening techniques – though most don’t!. It was one of the courses that I was able to participate in when I worked in the Met Police, which initially sparked my interest in it.

Listening is one of the most fundamental components of interpersonal communication skills. Listening is not something that just happens (that is hearing), listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the messages of the speaker, not just the words and phrases that the person utters.

So what is active listening?
Listeners should remain neutral and non-judgmental, this means trying not to take sides or form opinions, especially early in the conversation. Active listening is also about patience – pauses and short periods of silence should be used where you can reflect on the words spoken to you. I would encourage you to try a little experiment right now.

Hang on a moment!
Stop reading this and go find someone to talk to. But before you go, remember this, during the conversation, when there is a pause and the other person expects you to immediately respond, pause, just for a moment and see what happens. Humans by our very nature can not cope with silence in a dialogue. Those long pregnant pauses drive people nuts. People fill up those silent elements in dialogue. But it is those pauses, that also demonstrate that you can be listening and actively so. When you have tried it, come back for the rest of the article.

You came back, great. Let’s continue.
Listeners should not be tempted to jump in with questions or comments every time there are a few seconds of silence. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore their thoughts and feelings, they should, therefore, be given adequate time for that. Did you find that you were experiencing a heightened sense of engagement with the other person? Great if you did. If you did not, don’t worry. It takes time and practice to get it.

Active listening also requires listeners to paraphrase what they’ve heard and restate it out
loud to make sure the other party understands what was said, the meaning and intention of the words spoken. At its heart is a three-step communication technique helps ensure both sides fully grasp the issue and both fully understand it.

Step 1. Really listen. No, really really, really listen.
Most of us are passive listeners, multitasking and surface scanning the dialogue as someone speaks. We get the gist of something and assume that’s good enough. it is not. Active listening requires that you are not distracted or inattentive; you must focus on the other person and try to comprehend everything they’re saying. Listen for emotions as well as facts. Try to hear why the customer is having a problem, what they are feeling and how they are presenting the information. These details can shape the entire interaction. If it seems like the issue is complex or includes several parts, it may be helpful to take notes while you’re listening. This applies to both the business, personal, social and counselling worlds.

Step 2. What is the key pieces of information and the feelings they have?
Now that you’ve done your best to fully engage in the listening process, you can begin to process the information. Review what you’ve heard — both the facts and the associated emotions — and list the key pieces. If you do not have all of the information you need to really understand the facts and the other person’s feelings, now is the time to ask the right questions. What are the right questions? For starters, focus on them, not just the problem. By understanding their perceived state of mind, you can provide the right answers to help meet their needs and expectations.

A good example of active dialogue is where you will rephrase a piece of information already provided with a confirming question attached. In effect, you are playing back part of the dialogue with a further qualifying question.

Step 3. Finally, Mirror back to the speaker.
Now you need to replay everything — both facts and emotions — back to the other person in a summary of the issue and problem they have

While active listening and its key parts — focusing, comprehending and reflecting
are great for all areas of life especially in the change work arena; one of the areas that can really benefit from it, is telephone technical support. What does active listening do for technical support?

You solve the person’s problem, not just the problem itself!
Active listening puts you in the customer’s shoes and focuses your attention on them.
If you’re only paying attention to the problem, you weren’t actually listening and may inadvertently come across as condescending or rude. You may still fix the problem, but you have irritated your customer in the process.

You can build relationships with people, even over the phone.
Active listening in technical support shows that you care about and truly value your customers’ feelings and time. You want to really help the customer, rather than just fix the problem at hand. Too often I hear of the fact that the technical agent may fix the initial issue that the person has, but does not resolve the overall problem.

So the next time, you have a problem and phone someone for support and advice, see if they are using active listening skills to try to help you. The next time you have to visit the doctors, see if they are actively listening to your problem, or surface skimming the conversation and prejudging the outcome. You will be surprised how few people really, truly, actively listen.

I leave you with the following quote. One day, I am going to ask someone to take that bit of fluff out their ears and really listen!

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh