Below is an organized extract of You’re not listening by Kate Murphy. It is mostly a structured copy-paste from Kindle notes. Thus it is 99% the original text. Not a synthesis.

The book provides interesting insight about the unsung art of listening. It would not make it to by top50 list, though.

Listening is the more powerful position in communication

Listening is often regarded as talking’s meek counterpart, but it is actually the more powerful position in communication. You learn when you listen. While people often say, “I can’t talk right now,” what they really mean is “I can’t listen right now.” And for many, it seems they never get around to it.

Websites, mobile apps, video games, and social media platforms are designed to grab and keep your attention. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Epic Games (the creator of the popular third-person-shooter video game Fortnite) comingle computer science, neuroscience, and psychology to develop strategies to hook you, often by playing on your social anxieties, vanity, and greed.

They do it because your taps, swipes, scrolls, and clicks are how they make money. Like it or not, we are participating in an attention economy, where advertisers pay billions to media companies to steal us away from whatever else we might want to focus on. Attention has become a commodity, bought and sold on sophisticated electronic exchanges where bidding occurs in real time based on data provided by your cell phone or web browser. The quality of your attention doesn’t matter. Indeed, the more divided your attention, the more persuadable you are. The more likely you are to click Buy Now.

The manager role is to listen

In today’s economy, listening likely is your job. Most businesses rely on teams of employees to get things done. A study published in Harvard Business Review found that during the last two decades, “the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more.” At many companies, employees can spend as much as 80 percent of their day communicating with others.

They are countless studies and books about communication. But very few about listening. Some employers have added sections on “active listening” to their employee handbooks, but the concept tends to be vaguely or inaccurately defined. Employers also sometimes bring in career coaches and business psychologists to help employees listen better. But employees tend to resist and resent any suggestion that they might have “issues.”

Though, a manager’s most important role is to “give the quiet ones a voice.” And great managers create an atmosphere of psychological safety, where people are more likely to share information and ideas without fear of being talked over or dismissed.

Listening is about what goes beyond logic

A quantitative approach can give you broad brushstrokes while a good qualitative approach can provide finer detail. Both approaches are valid and when used in concert can be extremely revealing. But when it comes to human interactions and divining individuals’ unique motivations, proclivities, and potentials, listening is, so far, the best and most accurate tool.

Information is only as useful as how it’s collected and interpreted. Algorithms are only as good as the scope and reliability of the data sets to which they are applied. And what matters in life cannot be counted. If you poll enough people, then you can tell a story; it’s not the truth, it’s just a story.

The saying goes that “A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.” The world is easier to navigate if you remember that people are governed by emotions, acting more often out of jealousy, pride, shame, desire, fear, or vanity than dispassionate logic.

So, how can you have people tell their stories ?

Prepare to listen

Take an internal stance of curiosity. Ask questions out of curiosity as opposed to questioning to prove a point, set a trap, change someone’s mind, or to make the other person look foolish. Listen to the opposing side as if they were going to have to write a newspaper or magazine article about them.

Think of listening as similar to meditation. You make yourself aware of and acknowledge distractions, then return to focus.

Be calm and maintain an expression that transmits interest and acceptance. Eyes don’t dart, fingers don’t fidget, and body seems always relaxed and open. Keep arms and legs open. Show you are not on a schedule or there is nowhere else you’d rather be. If it is acceptable, consider sitting with your elbows bent in front of her on the table, cheeks resting in her hands, eyes wide, listening like a rapt teenager.

Get information about the person you will listen to

Do your homework before meeting with people. Questions should show you are knowledgeable and keenly interested in their work. When people feel known and appreciated, they are more willing to share.

Demonstrate interest either by learning about people beforehand or being inquisitive in the moment. Try to find what excites them.

Stop thinking you have to answer

Our magnificent brains race along faster than others can speak, making us easily distracted. We overestimate what we already know and, mired in our arrogance, remain unaware of all we misunderstand. We also fear that if we listen too carefully, we might discover that our thinking is flawed or that another person’s emotions might be too much to bear. And so we retreat into our own heads, talk over one another, or reach for our phones.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to keeping our minds on track and following someone’s

narrative is the nagging concern about what we’re going to say when it’s our turn. The upshot is that worrying about what to say next works against you.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say,” when you don’t. You can also say, “I’d like to think about that,” which conveys that you honor what the other person said by taking time to think about it, while, at the same time, honoring that part of you that is uncertain and needs time to process. One of the most gratifying things you can say to another person is: “I’ve been thinking about what you said last time.”

Make support responses rather than shift responses

Provide your counterpart with support responses, which encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding.

Avoid the the shift response, which directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent. Shift responses are symptomatic of conversational narcissism, which quashes any chance of connection. Most people give shift responses, though.

For example :

John: My dog got out last week, and it took three days to find him.

Mary: Our dog is always digging under the fence, so we can’t let him out unless he’s on a leash. (shift response)

John: My dog got out last week, and it took three days to find him.

Mary: Oh no. Where did you finally find him? (support response)

Sue: I watched this really good documentary about turtles last night.

Bob: I’m not big on documentaries. I’m more of an action-film kind of guy. (shift response)

Sue: I watched this really good documentary about turtles last night.

Bob: Turtles? How did you happen to see that? Are you into turtles? (support response)

Ask open short questions

Open and honest questioning is essential for basic understanding. It allows people to tell their stories, express their realities, and find the resources within themselves to figure out how they feel about a problem and decide on next steps.

If you ask open and honest questions and listen attentively to the answers, it communicates, “I’m interested in hearing more from you,” and “Your feelings are valid.” If you jump in to fix, advise, correct, or distract, you are communicating that the other person doesn’t have the ability to handle the situation: “You’re not going to get this without me.” And you’re also telling them, “There’s no room for honest emotion in our relationship.”

The question can be as simple as: “What did you learn today?” Another good one is: “What was the best part and what was the worst part of your day?”

Ask when you do not understand

“For whatever reason, often we are hesitant to stop and ask when we’re not sure what someone meant,”

“Most of the time when it happens, we keep going even though we think there’s something weird here. But you should stop and clarify. Say something like ‘When you said X, I was confused.’”

“I’m not sure I’m a better listener than anyone else, but if I hear something I don’t understand, I ask about it,” he told me. For him, the worst questions are the ones that are never asked.

Ask smart questions

Ask questions that don’t rob people of their stories.

“Why?” tends to make people defensive—like they have to justify themselves. Instead, turn your question into an invitation: “Tell me about the last time you went to the store after 11: 00 p.m.”

“What made you decide to become a sociologist?” Becker’s face contorted as if he’d just smelled something dreadful. “You’re assuming it was a decision,” he said. “Better to ask, ‘How did it happen that you became a sociologist?’”

Dare go to the intimate topics

Those who stick to superficialities in their conversations or who are jokey all the time don’t know what it’s like to give of themselves and, therefore, have a hard time knowing how to receive.

The worst interviews are those where people “don’t want to open up or reveal anything about their lives.” Lack of emotional resonance, of course, is what makes normal conversations dull and boring.

Things that make us alert in conversation are more variable, depending on the situation and our individual quirks, such as whether we happen to be in a good mood, can relate to what is being said, or find the subject matter surprising. Personal stuff, though, always perks up our ears.

It doesn’t matter if it’s their bottle cap collection; if they are passionate about it, it will be interesting. And also respect boundaries by backing off if you suspect you’ve stumbled into a touchy area. Gently change the subject and be gracious in not knowing. Intimacy can’t be forced.

Inform people they are free to stop her at any time if you venture into an area that feels uncomfortable. It will participate in establishing that you care about their feelings.

Make useful reactions

Avoid to (i) suggest you know how someone feels, (ii) identify the cause of the problem, (iii) tell someone what to do about the problem, (iv) minimize their concerns, (v) bring perspective to a situation with forced positivity and platitudes, (vi) admire the person’s strength

Avoid speaking to fill a blank. “It’s the people who are comfortable in their own skins that are okay with quiet.” People tend to regret not listening more than listening and tend to regret things they said more than things they didn’t say.

Train yourself to keep calm in all situations. When we are in this fight, flight, or freeze mode, it’s incredibly hard to listen.

Change your mindset when people touch your hot buttons. “Instead of thinking, ‘This person is a jerk and out for themselves,’ I think, ‘Oh, man, this person is really struggling to be seen.’” In her experience, it all boils down to insecurity.

Know your weaknesses and what makes you react too strongly

Cultivating self-awareness is a matter of paying attention to your emotions while in conversation and recognizing when your fears and sensitivities—or perhaps your desires and dreams—hijack your ability to listen well.

People who have a higher degree of self-awareness, and a related concept known as self-monitoring, are better listeners in part because they know the sorts of things that lead them to jump to the wrong conclusions and thus are less likely to do so.

Beware when what you hear is too much in sync with what you want to hear. Lying is often a cooperative act. There’s the liar and the person who hears what they want to hear.

Listen to yourself when you talk

Listening is not just something you should do when someone else is talking; it’s also what you should do while you are talking. Is the other person indicating any real interest in hearing more about your kid’s oboe recital? Did the other person wince when you started talking about politics? Was that a sigh of relief you heard when you said, “To make a long story short…”? If you’re not good at reading other people’s reactions as you speak, then just ask them. Check in. “Have I lost you?” “Did I overstep?” “What do you think?” “Are you still with me?” “Had enough?” “Am I boring you?” “Make sense?” “Too much?”

Make friends through listening

Somehow lost in our self-promoting culture is the fact that you can’t talk your way into a relationship. Listening is a courtesy and, more fundamentally, a sign of respect. It’s impossible to convince someone that you respect them by telling them so. It must be demonstrated, and listening is the simplest way to do that.

You will miss the point and make blunders some times. Remember : “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.”

Repaired rifts are the fabric of relationships rather than patches on them. Indeed, if you think about the people whom you trust and feel closest to in your life, they are undoubtedly the ones who have come back after a flub and made it right.

“While I still hate to readjust my thinking, still hate to give up old ways of perceiving and conceptualizing, yet at some deeper level I have, to a considerable degree, come to realize that these painful reorganizations are what is known as learning.”

Choose who you listen to

While listening is the epitome of graciousness, it is not a courtesy you owe everyone. While you can learn something from everyone, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone until they run out of breath. Obviously, you can’t. That isn’t possible. There are only so many hours in a day. So we make choices, consciously and unconsciously, about who gets our time and attention.

Careful listening is draining, regardless of your personality, aptitude, or motivation. You can’t do it continuously. A downside of being a good listener is people are always calling her with their problems. Part of being a good listener is knowing your limits and setting boundaries.

Not listening because you don’t agree with someone, you are self-absorbed, or you think you already know what someone will say makes you a bad listener. But not listening because you don’t have the intellectual or emotional energy to listen at that moment makes you human. At that point, it’s probably best to exit the conversation and circle back later.

Identify discussions which do not match your standards

Recognize discussions that come short in termes of quality, quantity, relation or manner

  • Quality—You can expect the truth.
  • Quantity—You can expect to get information you don’t already know and not so much that you feel overwhelmed.
  • Relation—You can expect relevance and logical flow.
  • Manner—You can expect the speaker to be reasonably brief, orderly, and unambiguous.

Communication is fundamentally a cooperative endeavor, so if we perceive our partners aren’t keeping up their ends of the bargain, we are going to feel cheated and want out of the deal.

Know why you do not listen

While not listening is justified and a matter of practicality in some circumstances, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a form of rejection. Consciously or unconsciously, you are choosing to attend to something else, which implies that person is not as interesting, as important, or as worthwhile, at least not at that moment.

Be as mindful and intentional when you withhold your listening. Just as you should be mindful and intentional when you grant the gift of your attention,

Get to know people before you decide not to listen to them. Secure people don’t decide others are irredeemably stupid or malicious without knowing who they are as individuals.

There are times when you have to admit that, try as you might, you can’t get on someone’s wavelength. It could be that something inside you is preventing you from listening, or it could be that the other person doesn’t want to be heard and is being withholding. Or it could be the person is just toxic. These are people who, whenever you listen to them, you feel depressed, diminished, or distressed. You can’t listen someone out of being abusive or cruel.

A good exercise is to think about the people in your life who you have a hard time listening to and ask yourself why that is.

Are they judging?

Do they tell the same stories over and over?

Do they exaggerate?

Give too much detail?

Do they only talk about how great they are?

Do they get their facts wrong?

Are they too negative? Saccharine?



Do they challenge your thinking?

Disagree with you?

Do they make you feel envious?

Do they make references and use words you don’t know?

Are their voices annoying?

Are they not socially or professionally useful to you?

Are you afraid of the intimacy that might develop?

You have your reasons. Just know what they are and whether your reasons say more about you than they do about the other person.

A few parting ideas for bad listeners

Improvisational comedy is one of the more interesting and effective methods for improving employees’ listening skills.

There was even an award given out every year by Apple employees to whomever did the best job standing up to him. Jobs knew about it and loved it. It’s as if he was looking for people who would force him to listen when his nature was to run roughshod over them.

Appendix : interesting material

“The 36 Questions That Lead to Love,” have become an internet meme, as people continue to use them to spark new romantic relationships and reignite existing ones.

Secret of a master moderator, by Naomi Hendersen