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Why people do not listen


Techniques Listening > Why people do not listen

I'd rather talk | I'm distracted | It's not interesting | I'm busy talking | See also


One of the reasons people are not good at listening is because they do not listen. Listening skills start with paying attention. If you know why your mind is tending not to listen, then you have taken the first step in addressing this.

I'd rather talk

Talking can seem far more useful and attractive than listening, and so people will seek to talk rather than listen.


Talking seems to better address more needs than listening. When I talk, I am in control, and can steer the conversation any way that I choose. When I talk I am also the center of attention, which boosts my sense of identity.


When I am talking, then I have a better opportunity to achieve my goals, for example by telling other people to do things that I need them to do. I can keep the conversation on my own agenda and prevent others from talking about things that are of no interest to me.

I'm distracted

Busy thinking

We talk at 200-250 wpm (words per minute) but can listen at 300-500 wpm. Thus when the other person is talking, we get side-tracked by our own thoughts (which may well be triggered by one thing that the speaker says). When we come back into the room, we find that we have lost track of the conversation. Rather than lose face and become embarrassed by this, we nod, smile and hope nobody will notice.

Busy waiting

When we have decided that we want to respond to the speaker, we then stop listening for two reasons. To avoid forgetting what we are going to say, we need to keep rehearsing our thoughts and words and so get lost inside our own heads. We also stay inside as we think about better ways to put our case. When we are paying attention to the speaker, we are not listening to what they say but listening for a space in which we can interject with our reply.

It's not interesting

Speakers are responsible for their listeners every bit as much as the listeners are responsible for listening. The speaker can thus do their bit to stop other people listening to them, including:

  • Using boring and uninteresting language
  • Using complex and difficult language
  • Using a flat speaking tone
  • Not using supporting body language
  • Not paying attention to the listeners
  • Insulting the listeners (perhaps accidentally)
  • Talking about things that are not of interest to the listener
  • Talking for too long
  • Not giving the listener the opportunity to reply

This does not excuse the listener, although it may make their job harder. If you are a speaker, one of your first jobs is to try to help the other person keep listening.

I'm busy talking

People who are talking usually have attention on themselves and what they are saying. With this self-focus, they do not notice that other people are waiting to speak or want to comment about what the speaker has said. Even if they do notice, many people will continue to talk, either to retain control or to fulfill their need for completion (even if nobody is listening!).

See also

Needs, Goals


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