1. Do you maintain frequent eye contact with the speaker?
  2. Are you suspending your judgment of the person’s appearance?
  3. Are you encouraging the speaker by nodding and conveying your own understanding?
  4. Do you try to keep an eye on what else is going on in the room?
  5. Does your mind start to wander as soon as you believe you’ve heard enough to understand?
  6. Do you assume you know what the speaker is going to say before he/she says it?
  7. Are you thinking about what you’re going to say in response while the other person is still talking?
  8. Do you need to have the last word?

I hope this little quiz brings some increased awareness to you.

As for me, I think  too often we confuse listening with hearing.  There’s a big difference.  Hearing is involuntary.  For those of us with the ability, it just happens.  On the other hand, listening is a choice.  So is not listening.  Imagine you’re a doctor using your stethoscope to evaluate a patient’s heartbeat.  You are both hearing and listening, right?  Hearing the heartbeat, and listening to its quality.  You’re undertaking a pretty serious responsibility to both hear and listen.

And what if you’re not wielding a stethoscope?  What if you’re having an important conversation with your boss, your spouse, your teenager, your mother, or your co-worker?  Don’t you also have a serious responsibility to both hear and listen?  If you’re telling your supervisor that you intend to use your vacation days by taking a week off in August, and she’s reading an email instead of focusing on what you’re saying, how does that make you feel?  Annoyed?  Frustrated?  Insignificant?  Do you tell her to focus?  Pay attention?  Listen?  Do you quiz her by asking, “what days do I want off?”  Or are you nicer about it?  “I’ll send you an email to with the dates, so you have it in writing” would be a much more diplomatic way to handle it.  But you probably would be a little less courteous with your teenager.  “Put the phone down and listen to me, please” is a more realistic approach.  You know he’s hearing you but you want to make sure he’s listening.

During an argument, it’s more likely that you are each thinking about how to defend yourself rather than actually listening  (see #7 above).  It’s a natural defense mechanism, and we all use it at one time or another — some of us more than others.

If you want to improve your listening skills, I’ve broken it down into four steps. click here.

As a Mediator, I’ve been formally and extensively trained to listen to my clients.  And like you, I’m a work in progress.  My greatest challenge is to keep myself and my experiences out of the conversation.  What’s yours?