Use This Iconic Reminder To Talk Less – Listen More

What has your quarantine and social distancing experience been like these past ten weeks? The at-home isolation is a necessity to slow COVID-19 and has sparked conversations among my friends and family about the importance of social connections in our lives.

I noticed that having this common experience has prompted more people to reach out to check-in with one another, often sharing concerns and vulnerabilities.

It’s great to hear from friends and family, but HOW they engage in those conversations can be quite different. When the other person truly LISTENS, I hang up feeling heard, supported, and even closer to them. In some conversations, it felt more like one-way communication. Giving me the download on their life appeared to be the primary objective.

Then it struck me. The now-iconic face mask is a great reminder these days to talk less – listen more!

The mouth is covered, but the ears are wide open.

In Kate Murphy’s book, You’re Not Listening, What You’re Missing & Why It Matters, she explores the half of communication that is often underrated – listening. Our halfhearted attempt at listening leads to misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and conflict with others. Damage to those relationships can be long-lasting, which is difficult to recover.

This book is full of great insights, but here are three listening best-practices that resonated with me:

  1. Support, rather than shift away from, what the other person is saying. We all have a few of these people in our lives. You know, the “it’s always about them” people? Here’s what it sounds like:
    • SALLY: My son lost his job at the restaurant due to the government shut-down.
    • BETTY: Our daughter lost her waitress job too. She was working while in school, so I’m glad she can now just focus on her schoolwork.

Kate calls that a SHIFT RESPONSE, one which directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent.

The SUPPORT RESPONSE encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding. Here’s what that sounds like:

    • SALLY: My son lost his job at the restaurant due to the government shut-down.
    • BETTY: Oh no! Is he able to get unemployment? What other options is he exploring?

Support responses are usually not self-referential statements, or hastily offered advice. Instead, they are open-ended, other-directed questions. The best listeners are often the best questioners. You have to listen to ask a relevant question and be invested in listening to the answer.

People who ask questions, learn something from each conversation. That sets them up to typically have something interesting to contribute to future conversations.

  1. Don’t be afraid of the silence. It makes us feel uncomfortable but allows time for the other person to gather their thoughts and articulate something emotional or complex. Pausing after someone speaks is viewed as being attentive. It shows that you’re considering what was just said, vs. having an immediate response. Interrupting or being too quick to respond can suggest you were thinking about what you were going to say before the other person finished speaking. Sitting in silence is a strong signal of a secure relationship.
  2. Ask yourself these three questions after every conversation. 
  • What did I just learn about that person? 
  • What is that person most concerned about? 
  • How did that person feel about what we were talking about?  

Let these questions serve as a guide for improving your next conversation.

When you can answer them after a conversation, you know you were an engaged listener!

Doing good things for others is a sure-fire way to make you feel better too. Use your listening skills to make others feel valued, bringing a little sunshine in their day. And the next time you see people wearing masks, let it serve as a reminder to dial-down your talking and boost the use of those ears!

Talk less — listen more.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at