“Seek first to Understand. Then to be understood” -Steven Covey

Its safe to say that a majority of people don’t know how to listen properly. This is especially true with the sheer amount of distractions in front of our faces 24/7. How often are in a conversation and instead of truly understanding the person you are just waiting for your turn to talk? You think, “Yea, yea, I hear what you’re saying, but I know the right answer” or “Okay okay, but I really need to go catch more Poke’mon!” (I’m currently obsessed with Poke’mon go).


This inability to truly listen makes us miss out on so many opportunities for genuine connections with others. There is also a reciprocal effect going on. How can you expect others to really hear what you are saying if you don’t give them 100% of your attention? This lack of authentic attention is known as passive listening and many of us learn to use it throughout most of our lives. We are always in our heads thinking about when we get to go to the gym, what we are going to eat or what will happen to Jon Snow later that night. This is more hearing than listening. In this article, I am going to teach you the difference between the two and also show you how to listen like a therapist.

If I were to simplify things, I would say that I am a professional listener. A big misconception is that therapist sit there and lecture you for a majority of the hour. In all honesty I probably talk at most 20% of the time in session. When I do speak, my statements are rarely advice. I spent a vast amount of my attention on listening, validating, challenging and asking questions. In order to give my client the best possibility for self-awareness, I have to give 100% of my undivided attention, not only to their words, but also to their demeanor, affect, facial expressions, eye contact and tone of voice.

Are You Listening or Hearing?

Passive listening or anything below 100% attention is known as hearing. This is just paying attention to the words. Below are 7 pitfalls to being a good listener. When people use these they are only getting a slice of what the speaker is actually saying.

Mind Reading- Everyone thinks they are so good at reading minds. We always jump to conclusions to save time or because we just think we know people so well. The truth is that assumptions do really make an “Ass out of you and me”. Even if you are right, it is always better to error on the side of safety and just assume you know nothing like Jon Snow (Yes, that was my second GOT reference).


When you mind read others, you disregard or distrust what your partner is actually saying and try to assume what he or she really means. Mind readers do this by putting too much emphasis on non-verbals such as; tone of voice, eye contact etc. They ignore the actual message that is being said.

Rehearsing- Have you ever imagined how a conversation would go before you even had it? Of course you have! Whether it is rehearsing answering questions in a big interview or imagining a huge sales pitch the night before in bed. We all have played out conversations in our heads before they actually take place.

This is what can cause worry and anxiety. We will often catastrophize an event so much that it eats away at us until it actually happens. We come up with every little possible solution in hopes that we are ready. However, the truth is that no matter how much you prepare, you will never be ready until it actually comes.

Judging/Filtering- You pick and choose what you want to hear. This kind of hearing aligns with your own confirmation biases. It intrudes the present in a unique way. This is because we often create a specific scenario. Then when the actual event occurs, we do not respond properly it. We have our little preconceived notions set up and match our listening style in accordance with that filter.

Daydreaming- This is probably the one I suffer from the most. I remember when I was in 3rd grade (Mr. Hopman’s class) and I got up to look at his desk when he stepped outside with a particular ‘trouble child’. I wanted to see y grade on a test and instead I saw something that hurt me to the core. See, Mr. Hopman was not only my favorite teacher, but he was also our basketball coach. I looked down at the names in his notebook and scrolled down to mine. “Harvey, Humphrey, Hudson!” It said verbatim, “Josh Hudson- Shows great creativity and social skills. Caught daydreaming a good amount of the day. May recommend to stay back another year.” I had a pretty vivid imagination as a child. When my teacher was going over math and science, I just wasn’t that engaged. This also happens to listeners when the speaker isn’t engaging as well.


Advising- Everyone thinks they have the answers for everyone else. If being in the field of psychology has taught me one thing, its that you can’t solve other peoples’ problems. Surprised? Don’t be. I know this. People have to solve their own and they won’t change unless they want to. It is my job to lead them to water, but I can’t force them to drink.

The reason we give advice is because we want to help others and also feel good about ourselves. Ask yourself a question. Who does it privilege to give advice? Are you benefiting more form the advice giving or are they? Try and start to believe that people are capable of solving their own problems. Now you may be asking yourself, “Why do they even ask for advice in the first place?” Simple, people want validation. They want to be told that their values, beliefs or stance on something is correct. They want to feel good about their actions. So remember, the next time someone asks for advice, simply ask, “What do you think is best?” Then just validate what they say.

Being Right/Sparring- This is the most damaging when it comes to preventing or obstructing great communication. People will at all costs, justify, quibble or make excuses. In this style of hearing, people often try to protect values and an self based on ego. They listen only to argue, disagree or debate. People will take their position and defend it no matter what the other person says. This is stubbornness 101. This types of listeners subconsciously think, “If I admit I am wrong then I am no one.” This lie we tell ourselves is what I mean when I refer to our “false self”.


Placating- Have you ever been so over a conversation that you just agree to end it all. This is most like stonewalling in the four horsemen. You don’t give a damn anymore and just want to be left alone. As soon as your partner express doubt, irritation or anxiety, you jump in with a “Yes, you are right. I’m sorry I’ll fix it.” You will do anything just to stop the noise coming out of the other person’s mouth.


Alright! Now you know how we are bad listeners. I wanted to leave you with a little trick or technique I learned in school that will make better than 99% of other listeners out there. It is a simple formula that works wonders when listening. If you respond this way then people will go through their conversations faster and feel more heard in the end. This type of listening

1. Builds trust and respect

2. Enables the disputants to release their emotions

3. Reduces tensions

4. Encourages the surfacing of information

5. Creates a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving

Whenever you take someone’s information in, notice their present feeling and the content that match that feeling. Then you respond with “You feel ___ because “content”. Below is an example.

Mary: I had such a hard day at work today. My boss was harping at me to do more than I could and it was so annoying!
You: Wow, you’re boss is a jerk (validation). You must feel annoyed because he’s putting too much expectations on you
Mary: Yea, like I get it! He wants to meet demands, but I can’t be expected to do my job and then some ya know?

You: Right, you have your specific duties and you should be expected to do just those. You feel defeated because it doesn’t seem like what you do will ever be enough.

Mary: Exactly! Thanks for listening!

This type of listening is known as “Active Listening”. Try it on people and watch how much better they respond to you. It is also kind of funny to see how people repeat themselves in different words to elicit the same response. We will do this until we become punctuated.

    2 replies to "Are You Hearing or Listening? (How To Be A Good Listener: 7 Pitfalls to Listening)"

    • Kris

      Do you have any good tips or tutorials on how to be a better active listener? Listening is one thing, but I also feel like active listening and reciprocating or validating what you just heard is difficult. Thanks!

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