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Become a Better Listener

Interested in the self-help genre and psychology, I combine such knowledge with my experience of TBI Recovery & my writing skillset,


Dealing with Distractions

Living in these times when nearly everyone is distracted, it’s well-worth developing the ability to listen well.

And to step back for a moment, upon assessing the bigger picture, we really ought to learn to pay attention in general. Noticing things, after all, is what most of us consider intelligence. If an entrepreneur, for instance, identifies an emerging trend, she is considered more intelligent by her peers than a person who can merely score high on an IQ test.

Moreover, such a focus enables us to engage in the process of mastery more effectively. As a result, we emerge with both a marketable skill set to couple with our ability to focus—a rare combination in this world.


Interior Monologue as an Inability to Focus

There are two significant reasons we humans lost our ability to focus:

On the one hand, language enabled us to advance far beyond any other species on the planet. Other species communicate but do not use language, the distinction being that language includes syntax. For instance, pointing to a cup and saying, “Cup,” is communication, whereas saying “I’m rather tired” is language.

And, obviously, language enables us to publish books—now even self-publish them on the Internet—sharing our knowledge with future generations. And future generations can utilize and, in turn, add to such collective knowledge. As physicist and inventor of Calculus Isaac Newton put it, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

Language, however, also enables thinking, also known as internal monologue. Yet, there’s a downside to this: When others are speaking, we often are distracted by our own thoughts (e.g., thinking about what to say next). On the one hand, as hunter-gatherers without language, we did not speak, but we presumably could “listen” to nonverbal communication.

After all, humans have always been social animals, and cooperation was clearly essential living in the West African Savannah surrounded by dangerous predators. As author Robert Greene puts it in his book Mastery, “We can imagine that our primitive ancestors, needing to cooperate on a high level yet not experiencing the kind of interior monologue that comes with words, possessed an incredibly powerful sensitivity to the moods and feelings of others within the group, bordering on telepathy” (138). Is this why humans have such a rich palette of ways to communicate nonverbally?


Actionable Advice: Improve Your Listening Skills

And in his book Human Skills, former operative Frank Stopa points out how crucial effective listening is to staying informed and thus good decision making: “Good information provides the foundation for good decision-making. It stands to reason then that collecting good information, more effectively, more efficiently, and while building stronger working relationships, would help you achieve better results in everything you do” (13). Stopa’s book is indeed an interesting one--a book that both examines theory and provides actionable information.

Another challenge, of course, is our shortened attention spans. A major contributor to this problem of course is the Internet. While decades ago, people read entire books, in our times it’s rare for people to even read an entire Internet article. If someone begins reading an article on Leonardo da Vinci and ten seconds later comes to a hyperlink to the Renaissance, they just might click it. And after beginning that article, they’re likely to jump on the next hyperlink seconds later. As a result, they are shortening their attention span.

Knowing this puts us in a position to do the opposite, extending our attention span. For instance, my car accident left me with brain damage to my frontal lobe, leaving me with extreme attention deficit. One of the ways I’ve overcome this obstacle is by setting a timer for forty-five minutes every time I sit down to engage in an intellectual activity such as reading or writing. Fortunately, I often become so immersed in the activity I lose tract of time, learning more deeply than anticipated. You might try something similar, elongating your attention span.

All things considered, the ability to listen and focus will both ramp up your professional performance and deepen your relationships. Thus, it’s well-worth investing your time in the endeavor. Like so many other things in life, it’s not a goal that you reach and are done with, but rather a lifelong pursuit. We are all lifelong learners in the twenty-first century. I hope you found this article both interesting and informative.


Greene, Robert. Mastery. Penguin Group, 2012, NY
Stopa, Frank. The Human Skills: Elicitation & Interviewing. 2nd ed. Publisher, Publication Date, Location


Jim B Blogs (author) from New Jersey on December 04, 2020:

Dora Weithers, thanks for your feedback, and I'm glad you enjoyed reading my article.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 04, 2020:

Good! Your point is presented with clarity and your suggestion is helpful. Thank you.