Unfortunately, life doesn’t make it easy for us to tune things out and focus on what’s right in front of us. Even with the best intentions, we so often find ourselves not being fully present for those we’re interacting with.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t make it easy for us to tune things out and focus on what’s right in front of us. We carry everything we have going on in our lives from one moment to the next whether we want to or not. When we’re at home, we’re thinking about work. When we’re at work, we’re thinking about something at home. When we’re talking to one person, the dynamics of other relationships are at play in the background.

Even with the best intentions, we so often find ourselves not being fully present for those we’re interacting with. We spend 55% of our time listening, but we only retain 25% of what we hear. (1) Instead of listening and really hearing what someone else has to say, we’re listening to what’s in our own heads, leveraging preformulated responses to interject and problem-solve. Active listening comes naturally to very few of us. It takes practice and dedicated intention. But the good news is there’s actually a lot we can do about it. And the benefits can be game-changing for every relationship in our lives.

Put yourself in their shoes

Chances are you can think of multiple times in just the last day that you didn’t feel the person you were talking to was fully hearing what you were saying. Frustrating, isn’t it? We all know how it feels, so it’s important to remember we all make others feel that way at times too.

These interactions wear on us, building up over time, and cascade into the long-term dynamics of critical relationships. When we don’t feel heard, we start to question trust and reliability, weakening the productivity of the relationship for both people, which of course has adverse effects on others as well.

Here are some key things to remind yourself to do: (2)

ƒ Be fully present: We are very easily distracted today, so put away your cellphone, ignore distractions, avoid daydreaming, and shut down your internal dialogue.

ƒ Pay attention to your nonverbal cues: Body language and facial expressions play a big part in active listening as well. Keep your arms unfolded, lean in, nod, and smile.

ƒ Keep good eye contact: Maintaining eye contact during conversation tells the speaker you’re focused on what they’re saying. Follow the rule of keeping eye contact 50% of the time, for five seconds at a time.

ƒ Be patient: Don’t fill periods of silence with your own thoughts or stories, prepare replies while the other person is speaking, or change the subject too quickly.

ƒ Withhold judgment: Remaining neutral and nonjudgmental in your responses enables the other person to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Express empathy when appropriate to let them know they’ve been heard.

Train your active listening skills

Having a toolkit you can rely on will help you become a better active listener. Just like muscle memory, practicing specific techniques helps them become engrained and more natural. Over time, these skills replace the internal dialogue that feeds our bad instincts to center ourselves, derail the speaker, or mishear things.

Keep these techniques (3) at the ready whenever someone engages you:

ƒ Paraphrasing: Restate the information someone gives you in order to convey interest and encourage the speaker to keep talking.

ƒ Verbalize emotions: Reflect the speaker’s basic feelings and emotions back to them to show that you understand and help the speaker evaluate their own feelings.

ƒ Asking: Ask thoughtful questions to get more information, obtain clarity, and show that you are truly interested in understanding what the speaker is saying.

ƒ Summarizing: Restate any major ideas and feelings that are expressed to help both you and the speaker pull the conversation together and establish a basis for further discussion if needed.

ƒ Clarifying: Ask for further explanation on vague statements or anything that you think you might be misinterpreting to help both of you explore points of view you may be missing.

ƒ Encouraging: Be conscious of your affect, intonation, and body language to ensure that you’re showing encouragement as much as verbalizing it.

We’re not as good at listening as we think we are

A staggering 96% of people consider themselves good listeners. (4) Yet less than 2% have received any formal education on listening effectively. (5) Not only do we think we’re good at this critical skill, we think we are inherently good at it. But listening is unequivocally a learned skill, one we can greatly improve with perspective and practice. Everyone in our lives, including us, will benefit if we take the time to make them feel heard and understood.


Thanks for checking out the blog. 

Joe Breslin, CFP®



(1) Medium: Active Listening Facts and Stats to Boost Productivity

(2) Verywell Mind: What is Active Listening?

(3) How to Practice Active Listening: 16 Examples & Techniques

(4) Psychology Today: We’re Worse at Listening Than We Realize

(5) Harvard Business Review: A Simple Way to Boost Your Listening Skills


This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that the views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. CDs are FDIC Insured to specific limits and offer a fixed rate of return if held to maturity, whereas investing in securities is subject to market risk including loss of principal. This material was prepared by LPL Financial.

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