How To Know if People Aren't Listening

People may laugh at those clever cell phone commercials in which the person continues to ask "can you hear me now?"  But it's no laughing matter when people aren't listening to you, no matter whether you are addressing a large audience or in an intimate conversation with just one other person.

With so many commercial messages and interruptions bombarding each of us on a daily basis, people may insist they are hearing the messages presented to them, but listening is an entirely different matter. True listening involves letting the other person speak, paying attention to what they say and how they are saying it before contemplating how to respond.  How can you know if people aren't listening to what you are saying?

  • Constant interruption is a warning sign that people aren't really listening.  Rather than pay attention to what you are saying, they feel compelled to jump in at the first opportunity to tell you what they want you to hear. Often something that's been said by one person triggers an emotional response in the other, and rather than continue to pay attention and listen to the speaker's entire message, the respondent is already formulating a rebuttal or remark, totally engrossed in how they plan on answering the person they are listening to rather than really listening and then formulating a response.

  • A person who jumps into the conversation to finish your thought or your sentence while you are speaking to them really isn't listening to what you are saying.  Like the interruptor, this non-listener is already racing ahead to get to the end of the person's conversation so that what they want to say can be heard.  People whose minds race ahead and blurt out the anticipated finish to what someone else is saying runs the risk of insulting or hurting the person who asked to be listened to.

  • People whose eyes wander or dart around the room while you are talking to them really aren't listening to what you are saying.  They may also give away their inattention by actively pursuing something else, like rifling through papers or perusing a newspaper while you are talking, all the while giving you a false reassurance that they are paying attention with an occasional "Yes,", or "ahum" or "Ok."

  • Yet other people totally disconnect from the conversation right from the start, not actually listening to one word you are saying because they are too busy rehearsing what they are going to say.

Good communication requires the skills to both speak clearly as well as listen with interest. The next time someone is listening to you, watch for the warning signs that they really aren't hearing you. The next time you are asked to listen to someone, do them the courtesy of really paying attention before you begin to formulate your response.


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