Do you really listen when people talk to you?

I was reading the latest copy of Psychologies magazine over the weekend. It’s one of the only women’s magazines I can tolerate because it actually includes features other than the eight secret ways to give the best blow job ever, top tips to drop a dress size in a week and six sexy shoe styles you can’t live without.

(These are obviously the only things we care about as women after all – how to impress men and other women.)

This month one of their features really got me thinking, although perhaps not in the way I was meant to. I think I was supposed to read the conversation between Kim Cattrall and Janet Street Porter and think ‘gosh, what two fantastically funny and self-assured women’. Instead I thought ‘bloody hell, so these women think of no one but themselves?’

The ‘conversation’ as far as I could see could easily have been split into two separate monologues. It read simply as each woman taking it in turns to say something about themselves, and I’m pretty sure you could have rearranged the paragraphs in any order you wanted and it would have made as much sense. Hardly ever did it feel like either woman was actually listening to what the other was saying, they weren’t asking questions, they were merely biding their time until it was their turn to speak again. It’s all ‘I want this…’ and ‘I find that…’ – no ‘so what do you feel about…?’

I have scanned a little bit of it here for you so you can see what you mean. Try reading each woman’s chunks on their own – it doesn’t even feel like the other peron’s input is missing does it?

Kim Cattrall and Janet Street Porter.

It got me thinking though about whether or not that’s typical of the conversations we have with friends every day. Are we really listening? Do we ask questions to find out more about how the other person feels or are we simply waiting for our turn to speak?

A few years ago when I trained as a breastfeeding counsellor I remember one of the hardest things to master was the art of listening. When someone is telling you about something that is happening to them instinct is to think of something similar that has happened to us and simply offer that as a response. It’s much harder to bite your tongue and just listen.

Even having the benefit of that training I still often catch myself falling into that trap – I hear someone say something that triggers a memory of my own and suddenly I switch off. I’m not listening to them any more because already I’m planning what I want to say and waiting for them to pause so I can jump in.

How good a listener do you think you are?



  1. 10 June, 2013 / 2:16 pm

    One was probably handed in as a reaction to the other and no genuine conversation ever took place. Is there a pic of them together?

    • admin
      10 June, 2013 / 2:36 pm

      Oh boo, that’s what someone on Twitter just said! There is no pic now you come to mention it but in the intro they talk about them both arriving at the hotel and Kim ordering soup and waving her spoon at Janet at some point. Is that made up do you think? It’s a real shame for a magazine like Psychologies to feature something as a ‘conversation’ if one never actually took place :-(

  2. Carie
    10 June, 2013 / 3:12 pm

    It reads as if its been heavily edited too. If there was a real life conversation I bet this isn’t a transcript; it’s too stilted. But I agree about the merits of remembering to listen properly.

    • admin
      11 June, 2013 / 12:32 pm

      It’s a shame, as I think the fun of reading a feature like this would have been to get a sense of the real conversation. Psychologies is all about authenticity and real connections surely?

  3. 10 June, 2013 / 8:03 pm

    Gosh now you have me questioning myself. I do have a lot to say, as you know, but I also pride myself on listening and actually hearing what people are telling me. In fact people are often suprised when I remember something they told me, which suprises me, like did you not think I was listening?

  4. Someone once said to me (and it stuck with me) that the older a face gets, the less likely we are to listen. So true, and so sad! Our older generations were once young and probably more interesting than us!! It’s a bit of a mission of mine to get families to capture their memories, and listening to someone’s stories is a pretty important way to start!

  5. Jonet
    11 June, 2013 / 9:36 pm


    Seriously though, I have to say I have never thought of Janet Street Porter as a sensitive caring listener!

    It does remind me of lots of conversations you hear people having. I myself of course am a very good listener!

  6. David
    16 June, 2013 / 2:15 pm

    You are quite right. We do talk too much, especially when we speak to someone that we have not met before. It might come from a need to impress upon them what an interesting person we are. I am sorry to say that I have finished a “conversation” with someone saying “how nice it was to talk to you” and afterwards felt that actually I should have said “how nice it was that you listened to me”. So food for thought. It is great when you can get someone to open up to you by really listening to them…but of course sometimes the other person overstays their welcome and starts going on and on an on about their own problems to a point when it is not much fun any more.

    Maybe it is a good idea to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes for a while and think about how best to make them feel happy with our company?

  7. 21 June, 2013 / 11:49 pm

    For the record… It was a real conversation- I hosted it myself in a garden in a hotel in south Kensington! Kimand Janet were both inspirational and wise- in different ways. They really did listen to each other and bonded well. It’s the first of a new series of conversations and I made the decision to edit my questions and ramblings out of it so if it seems a little too edited or stilted, that’s my fault.
    Our next big conversation iin our august issue is with Julie Delpy and her best friend and Alexia Landeau and I’d be very interested on what you think about that piece. We really value your feedback and I’m so disappointed that you feel we achieved the exact opposite of what we set out to create – an honest, authentic conversation between two brilliant women. But I am listening!!!!
    Because, I agree with you – truly listening and hearing each other is key to healthy relationships. What’s interesting to explore is what stops us doing that- why are we so eager to ‘have our turn’? Maybe it’s natural empathy to want to share and say ‘me too’ versus any kind of self obsession? For me, there’s something about listening and being curious. I know I listen well when I’m naturally curious.

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