What’s Your Secret? What advice would you give for a freshman in communications, I once asked my legendary Swedish boss Peje Emilsson who had started the comms industry in his home country in the early 1970`s. He had a very short answer to me: “Listen.”

That’s what they say – If you aren’t listening, you aren’t communicating. Still, that is one of the most common mistakes we do both at work and at home. That’s why Kate Murphy’s book on listening is so important.

According to the Polish-born social psychologist Robert Zajonc, we can readily accept the fact that we can be wrong. “But we are never wrong about what we like or dislike”, Murphy quotes him. It is much better to listen to how people feel than try to convince them to feel differently. You most likely cannot argue your way into affection. Truly listening is the surest way to form a bond.

In many ways Murphy’s You’re not listening is a modern, more narrow version of Dale Carnagie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936. Carnagie’s main message was, that genuine empathy and taking other people’s needs into account, sincerely. Thus you will earn the respect of other. Paying it forward pays off. Especially when it’s not calculated behavior.

This genuine openness to listening is e.g. the key to a successful career and successful business. It is highly relevant HR & recruiting, service, research & development, communications, let alone sales and marketing plus numerous other business tasks like market research.

Here are some selected thoughts, taken from ms. Murphy’s book on listening:

The silent ones have great ideas, too
We have probably all worked or taken part in teams, where some loud and dominating personality ruins the creative processes and you end up with not utilising the ideas and experience of the more quiet members. What a loss of brain power. Silent knowledge, muted.

I can’t listen right now
When people say, “I can’t talk right now,” what they really mean is “I can’t listen right now”, Murphy claims. There are also many ways to listen. Active listening is a way of communicating involving listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding.

You do remember the dog’s name, though
At moments of first introductions, we often miss what people are saying. This is embarrassing, especially remembering their names, because we are somehow distracted, coming up with our own introduction. According to Murphy, it’s much, much more likely we remember a name of dog after meeting him or her, than a person. I confess, neglecting names at first introductions does happen to me, too.

However, it is possible to fully concentrate in actually listening to someone’s opening remarks, nonverbal communication – and yes, thus be able to memorize their names. And repeat them over and over again, after hearing them. Both aloud and in your mind, preferably with some memorizing rule.

Keep your phone hidden
A study by psychologists at the University of Essex found that the mere presence of a phone on the table—even if it’s silent—makes those sitting around the table feel more disconnected and disinclined to talk about anything important or meaningful, knowing if they do, they will probably be interrupted. So, keep you phone in your pocket or purse. And keep your attention to the people you are meeting.

Listen to how people feel
We can readily accept the fact that we can be wrong,” the Polish-born social psychologist Robert Zajonc wrote, “but we are never wrong about what we like or dislike.” Better to listen to how people feel than try to convince them to feel differently. You can’t argue your way into affection, but truly listening is the surest way to form a bond.

It’s OK not to listen, too
Sometimes you need to make the call to stop listening. While you can learn something from everyone, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone until they run out of breath.

We are all human
Murphy reminds, that you are a bad listener, if you’re not listening because you don’t agree with someone, you are self-absorbed, or you think you already know what someone will say. However, not listening because you don’t have the intellectual or emotional energy to listen at that moment – makes you human.
”At that point, it’s probably best to exit the conversation and circle back later”, Murphy writes.

We spill the beans to strangers
Harvard sociologist Mario Luis Small found that slightly more than half the time, people confided their most pressing and worrisome concerns to people with whom they had weaker ties, even people they encountered by chance, rather than to those they had previously said were closest to them—like a spouse, family member, or dear friend. In some cases, the subjects actively avoided telling the people in their innermost circle because they feared unkindness, judgment, blowback, or drama. It raises inconvenient questions: Why do we choose the listeners we do?

Cut your elevator talk in half

Over the past century, Kate Murphy claims, the average amount of time people have devoted to listening to one another during their waking hours has gone down by almost half, from 42% to 24%. A Microsoft study by found that since the year 2000, the average attention span dropped from 12 to eight seconds. “If anyone tells a story longer than 30 seconds, heads bow not in contemplation but to read texts, check sports scores or see what’s trending online”, Murphy. If true, this pushes pressure on cutting a half off your 60 sec elevator talk.

Noice is everywhere
The sound levels in average 80 decibels at restaurants in the US. However a typical conversation averages about 60 decibels. In some international fashion stores such as H&M and Zara the noise levels rises up to 90 decibels. 

The latest noice pollution danger comes from headphones. The World Health Organisation has discovered that teenagers’ near chronic headphone abuse is ruining their hearing. As many as 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss. Murphy describes them as “generation deaf”.

Listen, don’t regret
People tend to regret not listening more than listening and tend to regret things they said more than things they didn’t say.

Why they are not listening to You
Finally, a list from outside Murphy’s book, that I found somewhere with the help of Google algorithms. Apparently these are the primary reasons, if people are not listening to You:

1. You’re whining.
2. You’re thinking or speaking only of yourself.
3. You won’t shut up.
4. You interrupt.
5. You begin with, “Actually, you’re wrong.”
6. You cry wolf.
7. You don’t care about what you’re saying.
8. You don’t know what you’re saying.
9. You wander.
10. What you are saying is insignificant.
11. What you are saying is irrelevant.
12. You start with, “I’m sorry . . .”
13. You don’t hold up your end of the bargain.
14. You never take action on what you hear.
15. You’re always negative.
16. What you say is trite.
17. You never listen to anyone else.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters
Kate Murphy (Celadon Books, 2020)
Review by Jan Erola