Rediscovering the Lost Art of Listening in a World of Distractions


5/15/20239 min read

woman in white long sleeve shirt kissing girl in white long sleeve shirt
woman in white long sleeve shirt kissing girl in white long sleeve shirt

In the midst of constant distractions and the desire to be heard, listening has become as rare as finding a unicorn in a crowded shopping mall.

As we walk down the street, and instead of engaging in conversations, people have their heads buried in their phones. It's like a scene from a zombie movie, except the zombies are just scrolling through their social media feeds.

Even when we gather with loved ones at a restaurant, each person is in their own little digital bubble, completely oblivious to the world around them.

Imagine a modern-day version of the Tower of Babel, except instead of different languages, we have different screens.

Even if we do engage in conversation, it seems like our attention span is shorter than a goldfish's memory. We're constantly distracted by the ping of incoming messages, the allure of the next viral video, or the urge to swipe through our social media feeds.

It's like our minds have been trained to constantly seek the next shiny object, leaving little room for meaningful conversation.

And let's not forget our need for speed. In a world where everything is instant—fast food, high-speed internet, and one-click shopping—it's no wonder that some of us find conversation too slow for our liking.

We're accustomed to instant gratification, so waiting for someone to finish their sentence feels like an eternity.

It's like we're living in a world where patience has become an endangered virtue.

But here's the thing: true connection and understanding don't happen at the speed of light.

They require us to slow down, to be present in the moment, and to give our undivided attention. It's like savoring a fine wine or enjoying a leisurely stroll in the park. You can't rush it; you have to let it unfold naturally.

Think about it. When was the last time you truly felt heard and understood? When someone gave you their undivided attention and genuinely listened to what you had to say?

It's like stumbling upon a rare treasure chest filled with validation and connection. And let's be honest, we all crave that feeling of being truly seen and heard.

The Listening Struggle: Herculean Feats and Sleepless Nights

I always find listening to be a Herculean task.

Firstly, it drains me more than a marathon of brain workouts. I mean, who needs the gym when you can have a conversation, right?

But here's the funny part: despite feeling like a deflated balloon mentally, I still struggle to catch those elusive Z's. It's like my mind is playing a prank on me, saying, "Hey, remember all those things you heard today? Let's dissect them at 2 a.m.!"

And don't even get me started on bedtime heart-to-heart talks. It's like an epic battle between sleep and heartfelt emotions.

While the person who started the conversation snores away like a symphony, my mind becomes a circus performer, juggling thoughts and analyzing every single word spoken.

So, there I lie, physically drained, mentally buzzing, and contemplating whether I should patent my magical insomnia potion.

I also frequently find myself falling into the trap of turning listening into a problem-solving session. My mind becomes fixated on offering solutions rather than truly hearing the other person.

Unfortunately, this often leaves the other party feeling unheard and frustrated. I only came to know later that many people (especially women), just wanted you to listen and keep your mouth shut.

My Journey from Advice-Giver to Active Listener

But let's rewind a bit and dig into the root of my listening troubles.

You see, I used to be a social worker, and I thought I was the grand guru of advice. Turns out, I was just full of... well, let's keep it polite and call it "shenanigans."

People probably nodded and pretended to be interested, secretly wondering when I would start processing their application for financial assistance.

Lesson learned: don't be a self-proclaimed expert unless you want polite nods and people eyeing the exit signs. To add on, just because you are in a listening profession, doesn’t mean you are good at listening.

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself as a father of two, still struggling to be a good listener. In fact, my listening skills have deteriorated further, leading me down a path of reclusiveness and social anxiety.

It was only through reading "The Go-Giver" and engaging in deep self-reflection that I uncovered the root of my social anxiety—a severe lack of self-esteem and a desperate need to prove my worth.

You can read more about this in my article on "Overcoming Social Anxiety."

Deciphering "Listen"

This newfound realization has sparked a genuine interest in improving my listening skills. So, let's dive into some practical tips and techniques.

First and foremost, let's decipher the true meaning of the word "listen."

According to Merriam-Webster, it means "hearing something with thoughtful attention: giving consideration."

But let's take a linguistic detour to China, where the characters for "listen" hold hidden gems of insight.

In Chinese, the word "listen" can be broken down into several parts.

On the left, we have the character "耳," which means "ear," gently reminding us to use our ears for listening instead of just hanging decoration or storing spare change.

We also find the character "王," which means "king." This character highlights the importance of using our eyes and treating the speaker or subject as royalty.

It encourages us to focus more on listening than on speaking, to understand their words, views, and concerns.

Now, let's explore the right.

"十" in Chinese represents the number ten and is often used to symbolize 100% in Chinese literature.

Now, let's talk about "目," which is the character that resembles a standing rectangle. It carries the dual meanings of eyes and attention.

Combining these two characters signifies giving 100% attention—having your eyes on the person instead of being glued to your phone.

Debunking Eye Contact Myths in Listening

I don't know about you, but the idea of trying to maintain 24/7 eye contact feels like an Olympic sport that I'm just not cut out for.

I mean, seriously, who came up with the notion that unbroken eye contact is the holy grail of effective listening? It's like we're expected to be human lie detectors, scanning each other's eyes for hidden truths.

But here's the reality: constantly locking eyes can be downright exhausting and, dare I say, a little invasive.

Not only that, focusing too much on maintaining eye contact can actually hinder our ability to listen effectively.

Instead of immersing ourselves in the conversation and truly understanding the other person, we end up fixating on maintaining eye contact like a laser beam.

It's like trying to juggle too many balls at once, and inevitably, something's bound to drop.

Moreover, it's important to consider the comfort of the person we're conversing with.

While some may feel perfectly at ease with prolonged eye contact, for others, it can be uncomfortable and even distracting.

We don't want to make the other person feel like they're in a staring contest they didn't sign up for.

After all, genuine listening is about creating a safe and welcoming space for open communication, not putting people on the spot.

So, instead of being fixated on unbroken eye contact, let's adopt a more relaxed and natural approach.

It's perfectly acceptable to let our eyes roam and settle on appropriate areas like their forehead or ears. By doing so, we can maintain a thoughtful gaze while still allowing our minds to fully engage in the conversation.

And here's a fun fact: research from Japan suggests that prolonged eye contact can actually hinder cognitive processing.

So, you see, there's science to back up our instinctive discomfort with unbroken eye contact.

It's like our brains are wired to work more effectively when we're not under the constant gaze of someone else's eyes.

Of course, that doesn't mean we should completely ignore eye contact. It's still important to demonstrate that we're actively listening and engaged in the conversation.

But let's find a balance that allows for active listening while respecting personal boundaries and cultural norms.

Remember, it's absolutely fine to take inspiration from individuals like Lex Fridman when it comes to listening.

Oh boy, that guy is something else!

His interviews are practically legendary, and I've learned so much from watching them.

One thing I've noticed about Lex is that he doesn't adhere to the rigid rule of maintaining constant eye contact with his guests.

And you know what? It works.

It's evident that he listens attentively through his thought-provoking questions and genuine curiosity. He creates an environment where his guests feel comfortable opening up and sharing their insights.

It's like he has mastered the art of finding a balance between active listening and respecting personal boundaries and cultural norms.

He knows that effective listening isn't just about locking eyes with someone for an extended period of time.

It's about creating a space where thoughts and ideas can flow freely, where the conversation is driven by genuine interest and intellectual exploration.

One Heart, One Conversation: Embracing Wholehearted Listening

Lastly, 一 means one and the character below it is 心 which means heart. Putting them together means "one heart."

This character reminds us that we should focus on doing one thing at a time and putting all our heart into the conversation.

Multitasking is a myth, and attempting to do multiple things simultaneously usually leads to accomplishing nothing exceptionally well.

By giving our undivided attention, being "一心一意" or wholehearted, we can forge deeper connections and truly understand the other person.

In fact, these principles align with the concept of active listening, which involves various techniques such as:

  • Paying attention

  • Control internal dialogue

  • Avoiding interruption

  • Withholding judgment

  • Empathizing

  • Reflecting and clarifying

  • Asking questions

  • Providing feedback

  • Paying attention to nonverbal communication

"Hold on, hold on." You say. "That is just too much to remember. Didn't you said that we have to focus everything on the other person. How do we have time to think about all these steps if we need to give our full attention?"

Here's the thing: improving our listening skills isn't about becoming a robotic checklist follower.

It's about developing a mindset and approach that comes naturally, allowing us to engage in meaningful conversations.

The Mindset To Rule Them All: Embracing the Magic of Immersive Curiosity

Be genuinely curious.

No plans, no motives, no judgment. Just authentic and unadulterated curiosity.

I find that genuinely taking an interest in others is incredibly rewarding.

When you dedicate yourself to understanding why people think the way they do and make a conscious effort to make 90% of your conversation - questions, you effortlessly slip into the realm of active listening.

By wholeheartedly investing in understanding others, you create a powerful dynamic that goes beyond mere surface-level exchanges.

It's like unlocking a treasure trove of knowledge and emotions, fostering deeper connections and meaningful interactions.

When you make someone the focal point of the conversation, their thoughts and perspectives become the guiding stars that shape your dialogue.

Imagine the magic that unfolds when you immerse yourself in their experiences, thoughts, and emotions.

It's as if a vibrant tapestry of ideas and insights comes alive before your eyes.

Active listening becomes second nature, as you hang on to their every word, eagerly seeking to comprehend their unique worldview.

In this immersive state of curiosity, your questions become the key to unlocking the depths of understanding.

They fuel the conversation, providing the catalyst for profound insights and revelations.

By empowering others to express themselves fully, you create an environment where genuine connections can flourish.


Before we conclude the little book of listening, let us add two more methods you can improve your listening arsenal.

First, practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help us be fully present, reduce distractions, and cultivate a calm and focused state of mind.

Lastly, practice, practice, practice!

Children provide excellent opportunities for us to hone our listening skills. They have a way of being all over the place, and truly understanding their thoughts and perspectives requires patience and genuine effort.

So, let's embark on this journey of improving our listening skills.

Remember, it's not just about hearing words; it's about creating an environment of trust, understanding, and mutual respect.

Let's bring back the art of listening and experience the profound impact it can have on our relationships and personal growth.

Go forth Padwan! May the force of immersive curiosity be with you.

With love.