Why is it so hard to listen

If you’ve been following our May Mindfulness Month, by now you should be well equipped with some new tips and tangible tools for what it takes to be a little more present. Over the past few weeks we’ve touched on a variety of aspects for how we can be more focused and actually enjoy the moments that we’re in.

One thing we haven’t yet discussed and something that is arguably one of the hardest skills to master — is the art and the power of listening.

Not only is listening a key factor in being an effective communicator and a strong leader, it’s also one of the basic necessities when it comes to enhancing our emotional intelligence and living in the moment — which ultimately contributes to our overall happiness at work and in life.

Courtesy of the Ohio Program of Intensive Listening

This might sound obvious, however it’s astounding how many of us truly aren’t ‘all there’ when we’re in a conversation.

Think about how many times you tune out when someone’s talking and you have to play catch up or just smile and nod for the remainder of the discussion.

Why is it so hard for us to listen?

  • We’re too consumed with our thoughts
  • We can’t stop the wheels from turning
  • We don’t pay enough intentional attention

So for this week’s challenge, we’re going to delve into how we can combat our ‘listening deficit’, in 5 digestible steps:

Listening Challenge #1: Check it at the door

This week, before walking into a conversation, quiet whatever is going on in your head — literally leave it at the door. If it’s that important, it’ll be there on your way out and you can pick up where you left off. Try your best to leave your thoughts, worries, problems and over-worked brain, outside, before engaging in your next chat.

Listening Challenge #2: Give yourself one Task– To Focus on the person in front of you

We’re not robots and it’s normal that we might tune out from time to time when speaking to someone — no matter how interesting they might be. This week, challenge yourself to catch those moments when you’re no longer ‘there’ and bring yourself back! Be vigilant about it and be mindful when you find yourself drifting off into the ‘eversphere’.

Listening Challenge #3: Take yourself out of the Conversation

This is one of the hardest things to master, as a reportedly only 2 percent of the population does it properly. The next time you’re talking to someone, don’t use the word ‘I’ in the conversation. As tempting as it can be to refer a situation back to yourself, the most effective way to connect with someone is to listen and simply repeat back what they say back to you.

If someone’s angry, literally saying: “I can see you’re angry”, goes a long way. It’s called Empathic Acknowledgment and it plays on the fact that people really just want to be heard. As humans, we’re usually inclined to give advice and share similar experiences and as much as it comes from a good place, the most value we can be to someone, is by just acknowledging that we’re listening and that they’ve been truly heard.

Listening Challenge #4: Let it Pass

We’ve all had conversations when someone says something and we instantly think: “Oh, I need to comment on that, add to it, refute it etc…” Sometimes we get so caught up in responding to that one thought, that we end up missing the rest of the sentence or conversation. When that happens this week — challenge yourself to let it go. You might have even more to say about what’s said next, making your initial comment unnecessary.

Listening Tip #5: Use the 80/20 Rule

And no we’re talking about the Pareto Principle. For the entire week, try speaking only 20 percent of the time in each conversation and letting the other party do 80 percent of the talking.

What’s important is that after each challenge you right down or take note of how you felt the interaction went. Things to think about include:

  • What feedback (if any) did you get from the person you were speaking to?
  • Did they seem to open up and say more?
  • How did you feel during the conversation?
  • What was the hardest part about staying more present?
  • What was different about this conversation?

For more articles about mindfulness, communication and being present check out:

How do you stay present during a conversation? Share your tips with us in the comments below and join the Happy Melly tribe to take part in our exclusive discussions on Slack. Blog Footer


  1. Hey Sam, I am confused…
    Do I say “I can see you’re angry”, or do I not use the I-word?

    Besides that – awesome challenge!

    Comment by Dov on December 15, 2017 at 12:43 PM

  2. Hi Dov. Good question. You can definitely say I see you’re angry because you’re telling that person you SEE them. The important thing is that you’re playing back to them the emotions they are showing, letting them know that you’re picking up on that. So ‘you seem angry’, it looks like this makes you angry, I see you’re angry…all are ok.

    Comment by sam on December 19, 2017 at 5:49 AM

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This article is written by Sam Mednick on May 29th 2017.

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