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© 2003 A H A Frost


'There has been listening if what is heard is the same as what was said'

Has anyone ever said to you 'You're not listening' and you've said 'Yes I am', but know that you were not? How did they know that your attention had wandered even though you were looking at them? How much did you miss that might have changed your life or theirs?

In a professional setting – as a therapist or complimentary practitioner, for example, – your listening skills are not only vital for a correct diagnosis, but are critical to your reputation and future. All too often in professional as well as personal life we do not give the necessary energy to listening.

The quality of a person's thinking is determined by the quality of your listening. This applies whether the person is a client telling you about their symptoms, or a partner telling you about their day at the office.

Being able to be perfectly mentally still, to empty your mind in order to offer someone your entire, rapt attention – so that they know it – is a rare and valuable gift in this strident, competitive and heartless world. To do this is to be recognised as a listener – someone who is worth talking to.

So, why are some people seen as listeners and praised for their listening and some accused of never listening or paying attention? What is it that makes a good listener?

The key elements of high quality listening are:

  • getting the environment right
  • giving close attention and
  • not interrupting.


It is pretty obvious that unless you can hear you can't listen! The ideal physical environment for proper listening is one with little or no interference. Creating an environment for the thinker that says 'you matter' is a form of encouragement not only to think but also to enhance the quality of thought.

There should be no physical pressure on the thinker, for example, the seating should be comfortable and the temperature agreeable.

There should be no mental pressure on the thinker, for example, the listener mustn't say (or, more importantly, think) 'I hope this isn't going to take too long'. Ideally, there must be no children demanding attention, no dogs barking, no TV blaring away and no chance of the dreaded telephone ringing. It is so easy for us all to slip into incremental bad habits that allow the physical environment to interfere with your listening.


You may have heard of the experiment where a mother 'went neutral' on her baby. She looked at the child as if it was not there. The baby instantly burst out crying. Such is the power of attention. A good listener has to show the thinker, both physically and mentally that she or he is giving attention – genuine, unconditional, undivided attention which shows the thinker your interest and fascination in them.

Physically you need to put your body into listening mode. Face the thinker, and don't cross your arms; keep your eyes on the thinker, even though they may not be looking at you, and nod, smile, laugh, grimace and cry (if necessary) with them.

Mentally you need to be 'fully present'. This means your mind must be focussed on the thinker and not on what you are going to have for lunch that day (or any day!). The thinker can instantly recognise when your eyes go blank and your mind goes away from them. Not being there mentally puts up barriers to thinking and is the most common crime committed by poor listeners. To become a good listener, clear your mind, tune into your intuition and focus your attention.

Remember, the quality of your attention has a powerful effect on the quality of the other person's thinking.


One reason for clearing your mind is so that you do not mentally interrupt the thinker. We all know how verbal interruption can make you lose your train of thought or not let you finish your thinking. Mental interruption does the same thing, only it is much more subtle and powerful. One common example of this is thinking about what you are going to say when the thinker stops thinking, or even getting the urge to think about what you are going to say.

Most people do not listen – they are either speaking or are preparing to speak! You can't be thinking what to say next or deciding what treatment to recommend and be giving the thinker your unconditional, undivided attention. You need to focus on where the person's thinking is going rather than where you think it should go, and resist the temptation to determine the outcome.

Then there's physical interruption. Shifting uneasily, opening your mouth as if to speak, saying 'Oh! Yes I had one of those and it was really painful!', hijacking the thinker's train of thought, talking over the thinker, finishing the thinker's sentence for them (which most of the time we do wrongly!), looking at your clock, staring out of the window – and yawning!!!

Interruption closes down the thinking process fast, blocks intuition, destroys your credibility and the thinker's trust in you. And yet we all do it – some are not even conscious that they do!

If you do nothing else as a result of reading this article, spend some energy on becoming aware of your interruption score. Oh! And by the way, a high score for interruption is not good!

The gift of perfect listening

To give someone the gift of listening to them with all three of the key elements in place is the most satisfying and rewarding experience you can have. It not only honours you – it gives you a depth of information that otherwise you would miss; it honours them – giving them a quality of thinking that otherwise they would not have had.

Quality listening is described by Nancy Kline in her book Time to Think Published in paperback by Ward Lock £9.99, and can be learned as a skill on the Thinking Environment™ workshops offered by The Buzz for Life click here for more information

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