Most people suck at listening

Alex Barrera
4 min readMay 22, 2017
Image credits: Cole Hutson, Laguna Beach, United States / Unsplash

Have yo ever had that feeling that you’re talking to someone but they aren’t listening? You aren’t alone. I must confess it’s something that gets on my nerves.

Our current society and its fear of missing out (FOMO) is degrading listening to ridiculous levels.

Listening is one of the most critical abilities humans possess. It provides us with two fundamental functions, learning, and teaching.

We can learn by many means, but listening to experience people is one of the most important. Nevertheless, few people exercise true listening.

And the truth is, listening is something very hard to do. It requires that you empty your mind, that you extinguish all thought and focus your heart on what the other person is saying. If you head is full of other ideas, there won’t be enough space for you to absorb what you’re listening to.

“Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

Like this cup, Nan-in said, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

On the other hand, it’s also important to pass no judgment about what the other side is saying. This in itself is nearly impossible and it goes hand in hand with having too many thoughts in your head.

The more thoughts you have, the more you’ll judge. This contributes to interrupting the other person, to pushing your thoughts out. The goal is the opposite, to get new thoughts in.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few. — Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

I see too many people asking for advice, just to then half-listen or directly ignore what they’ve been asking for. It’s a disheartening feeling. Here you are, making an effort to share something useful while the other side has disengaged.

People need to feel connected; listening is the way we achieve that.

Apart from learning, the act of listening is a fundamental building block of social interaction. It acts as the glue between friends, lovers, followers or partners. When used for bonding, it’s not about learning, but about drinking the other person’s disturbing thoughts. People need to feel connected; listening is the way we achieve that.

Listening isn’t only about hearing words and processing them. It involves all of you. It’s the way the eyes rest on the other person, the way the body is slightly angled towards the speaker, the way your face reacts to each word.

Most confuse listening with hearing. When I hear something like a song or a cocktail chat, I’m processing the words indirectly. I’m paying little attention to them. My degree of awareness is low. I’m most probably multitasking.

At that moment there is no one else in the universe except the other person.

Some people will even ask you to tell them about your problems and then will disengage. They understand it’s important for you to talk about what matters to you, but fail to see it’s all about them listening that makes it valuable.

When we’re listening, my full attention is on you. You have my all. At that moment there is no one else in the universe except the other person.

This is the reason why good listeners evoke so much trust, so much love and are such good leaders. When they listen, they’re fully there. Not part-time, not multitasking. Their eyes fixed on you, drinking every single word, every feeling.

In a society, where attention is one of the scarcest resources, giving someone your full attention is such a rare occurrence that it’s highly valued.

Next time you’re with someone, drop your phone, put it away, look at the person talking right into his or her eyes and listen. Avoid thinking of an answer before the other person has finished speaking. Take your time to answer. Pause. Breath. Wait. And then answer.

Listening is an art. It doesn’t come naturally. It requires training. But when done well, it becomes the pillars in which any relationship is sustained.

Stop what you’re doing and listen. What do you hear?

Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting something go every day. — Zen Proverb



Alex Barrera

Chief Editor at The Aleph Report (@thealeph_report), CEO at, Cofounder & associated editor @tech_eu, former editor @KernelMag.