All we seem to do is talk, talk, talk. But are we really communicating?

Many of us find ourselves in situations where everyone seems to be talking, but nobody is really listening. This happens at work, at home, and anywhere people gather to express their opinions, views, and feelings. Is this communication? Is it effective? And when someone is talking, are we merely hearing what they’re saying, or are we actively listening?

At first, hearing and listening sound like they’re the same thing, but they’re not. The difference between listening and hearing is understanding. We might be hearing the words someone’s saying, but if everything is going in one ear and out the other, then we’re not really listening to them.

When you really listen to someone, you not only hear their message, but you can also interpret what they mean.

Here’s a little experiment you can try to help you distinguish the difference between the two.

The next time you’re with someone, just let them talk for a couple of minutes. When the two minutes are up, repeat back to them everything they’ve said. If you’re able to accurately recap what they told you, it means you were probably successful in really listening to them, instead of just hearing the words coming out of their mouth and waiting for your turn to speak.

Misunderstandings and resentments often occur when someone is only hearing you, and not listening to what you’re saying. You know the type of person I’m talking about—the nonstop talker who speaks just to hear the sound of their own voice. These are the people who refuse to shut up and listen. They’re oblivious to the people around them, and so they continue to talk, preventing others from getting in a word in edgewise.

Here’s a true story:

I worked with a client who was a nonstop talker. He always felt he had to get the last word in. He would talk over and around people just to get his point across, and everyone in his life was tired of his behavior. They began to see him as a jerk, and the more he spoke, the more they ignored him. (Which only led him to talk more and sometimes even louder – as if that would help!) The cycle was vicious.

He came to me because he felt stuck. He wanted a promotion and new opportunities, but he wasn’t getting them. After I collected data from his colleagues and loved ones, I presented the bad news: they just wanted him to shut up and listen. Simple, right? You would think so. But it wasn’t until he had a separate “aha moment” that the light bulb went on over his head. When one of his peers shared a powerful, emotional story, it hit him hard. And it was ultimately this story that forced him to readjust the way he interacted with others. He finally began to talk less and listen more. As a result, his life changed for the better. Why? Because he was able to be more present for others by listening to what they had to say.

Here are some tips for learning how to talk less and listen more:

  • Interruptions. Track how often you interrupt others and pay attention to how others react. Do the interruptions seem to stop them from sharing information with you? Do this for 2 weeks. You should start to see a pattern emerge.
  • Repeat-backs. Repeat-backs are when you repeat the message back to the recipient to verify you heard them correctly. This is something that is done routinely on submarines to ensure the right information is being communicated. This shows you were actively listening and paying attention.

Active listening is a skill that takes time to develop and a lot of practice to master. However it is possible. When we actively listen, we are actively communicating. And this will help you develop closer connections with others.