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5 Ways to Listen Without Your Thoughts

Listening is not waiting to talk. – Scott Ginsberg

Sometimes it’s easier to describe something by showing what it is not. Like this quote for example. It perfectly describes what I call Thoughtless Listening, but we’ll talk more about that in a second. Listening is not talking, thinking about talking, thinking about what you’re going to say, not waiting your turn to speak…I think you get the point. We need to Stop…which conveniently is our “S” in our Listening series.


You need to stop what you’re doing in order to listen. You need to stop thinking about your response in order to listen. You need to stop talking in order to listen. You need to stop.

I don’t know about you, but I love to be distracted, it fills my ADHD tendencies. Here’s a partial list of things that distract me:


Passing Cars



People walking by








People watching

And the list goes on and on

Wondering why I’m telling you this? Because it’s important to know what distracts you and how you know when you are distracted. This is going to help you a lot when you’re listening to someone. So go ahead, write down some of your distractions, make yourself a list. I’ll wait.

The other day I was having a conversation with a 5-year old. As we were talking, I quickly checked my phone to see who I get a message from, looked at some of the passing vehicles, and wasn’t making eye contact. Part way through that conversation the kid stopped talking and said to me, “Pay attention! I’m trying to tell you something!” I’m sure you’ve all been there before, someone calls you on not listening because you were distracted, maybe it’s the hockey game, Grey’s Anatomy (ugh…), your phone, anything really, just take a look at your list.

Be Present

You’ve got to get rid of them and focus. The more intense the conversation, the more you are going to have to keep those distractions at a distance. You need to be present. In the “here and now” with the person who is talking. So whatever it is that is distracting you, clear it out. Turn off your phone or put it on silent, stop looking around and focus on the person’s body language, turn off the TV, you know what you need to do. Identify it and then do it.

Alright, so you’ve cleared the distractions but you’re mind is still going. Now what?

Thoughtless Listening

“There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves.” – Albert Guinon

If you are preparing your defense response before the person has even started talking you’re not listening. Not only do you need to clear the physical distractions that are in your way, you also need to clear the mental thoughts running through your head. No easy task, that’s for sure. I struggle with this one a lot. Especially when I’m not working (since I listen for a living), I don’t clear the mental distractions when I’m talking to my wife, friends, family, so I get it. It’s difficult. This is something that I’ve been working a lot with and am getting better and better at it in my day-to-day life, but it has taken a lot of work and a lot of practice. So here are some tips on how to listen thoughtlessly;

Get enough sleep – My good friend Julia Rosien has slapped me in the face with this time and time again (in a good way)

Know yourself – Know your distractions, hot buttons, opinions, thoughts.

Clear distractions – yep, we’ve already talked about it…but know what distracts you and get rid of it (for the conversation)

Write things down – If you got a pad of paper and a pen it can help to write things down…this also helps with retention of information.

Practice, Practice, Practice – “We’re talking about practice here.” You’re not going to get it right away, it takes time and determination.

How about you? What distracts you from listening everyday?


Jason Dykstra

Jason is a Conflict Management Specialist who is helping organizations and congregations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He specializes in relational and communication issues and uses his experience and training in mediation, group facilitation, conflict management coaching, speaking and teaching to aid you and your surroundings to better… MORE >

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