Distractions from Listening

The word LISTEN contains
the same letters as the word SILENT. 
Alfred Brendel

Of all of the ways we learn, 85% of our learning comes from listening. It is our most used form of communication but the least taught. Less than 2% of us have any formal education experience with listening. [see our previous post on listening]

To be serious, effective listeners, people must learn how to resist the distractions that cross their path so they can better focus in on what they are trying to hear.

Distractions - internal and external

Internal distractions can be everything from thinking about my to-do list, what my friend said to me earlier, my hunger, something that is upsetting to me, or wondering where the kids are.

External distractions can range from outside noises (plane flying over), computer screen, TV, tablet, cell phone, reading material, other people, or food. [see more on technology below]

If I really want to change my listening skills, I start by eliminating as many distractions as possible. 

My spouse deserves my attention while talking to me. My children and friends deserve my full attention.

  • To get rid of the internal distractions, I may need to ask the other person for a moment to jot down a thought in my mind that I don’t want to lose. 
  • To keep my mind from wandering, I can choose to focus on the words and expressions of the other person.
  • To stay focused, I can think about how to rephrase what is being said and give feedback.
  • To minimize external distractions, we may need to move to a quieter location. I will close the computer, put down the tablet or cell phone, and turn off the TV. 
I want to value the person in my presence!

To eliminate as many distractions as possible takes an intentional effort  and a determination to LISTEN!!!


So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Technology has made it infinitely easier to communicate around the world and locally. We can text our colleague in Zambia and the message arrives instantly!

Electronic devices have severely changed the way we communicate and what is important to us. Some people are more focused on getting acquaintances to like a post on Facebook than to get their own family to like their in-person communication. 

I recently observed a mom continually looking at her phone while walking her kids to school. She missed that special time together.

Being tied to any electronic device can be a barrier to face-to-face communication. To enhance face-to-face communication at home, consider the following:
  1. Make tech-free zones for the kids and adults. They can include the dinner table, riding in the car (at least some of the time), and bedrooms. 
  2. During family activities, put away cell phones (mom, dad, kids), including date night for husbands and wives.

Listening vs Distraction

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Stephen Covey

Communication is central in every home and business - 76% of our waking hours are spent in some form of communication. Listening takes the biggest share of communication, 42-57% of our day.

Listening is vastly different from hearing. Hearing is a sensory (physical) process; listening is a mental process. Hearing is passive - perceiving sounds, effortless. Listening is active - requires conscious efforts, concentration, and interest.

I can hear birds singing, but it doesn’t take my attention. Or I can listen to a bird singing, seeking to identify the kind of bird.

Failure to listen and understand results in endless conflicts.

Failure to listen can be a hearing problem or it can be a heart problem - usually it’s the latter.

We often react with emotion to the first few words out of the other person’s mouth. If I am formulating a response or interrupting the other person, I am not listening to understand the other person’s message or heart.

To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13

Another obstacle to good listening is distraction. In previous years, distractions would be reading or working, then television became an issue, now it is the ubiquitous cell phone. To listen, I give my attention to the other person - no TV, computers, or phone. [see our next post]

Communication/listening is one of the top issues that we see with couples who are struggling in their marriages. One or both don’t feel that the other one listens to them.

Changing this one area can change the whole relationship!

To listen
  • I give my attention to the other person and they know it! 
  • I respond with words and body language. 
  • I ask questions and/or empathize. 
  • I show value to the other person as they talk!
See "Distractions from Listening" in our next post.