The Lost Art of Listening

By Erica Johnson

“We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.” –Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

In a world obsessed with the idea of connectivity, it isn’t too hard to see that genuine, person-to-person connection is dwindling. Despite ever-improving, ever-quicker methods of talking to a person halfway across the world, we are seeing a decline in our ability to have a meaningful conversation with the person halfway across the living room.  

There are endless books, programs and counseling sessions dedicated to improving the relationships we hold most dear, and a common thread connects them all: we must learn how to listen.

Cue the shouts of “But I do listen!”

Do we really?

We have heard it a hundred times, and Pope Francis also emphasizes it…hearing is not the same thing as listening.

I can hear information and let it go in one ear and out the other. I can even hear information and repeat it back to you perfectly. But listening is about so much more. Listening is about taking in not only information but also the person’s tone, their inflection, their body language, etc. It is not only about what they say, but also how and, ultimately, why.

As Pope Francis says, listening is “an openness of heart.” When we listen, truly listen, the person speaking becomes the main and only focus of our attention. In such a busy, loud world, this can be difficult, but just because something is hard is no excuse not to try.

Here are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success in the art of listening:

  • Put. Down. Your. Phone! The only thing that screams “I have better things to do than listen to you” more than checking your cellphone mid-conversation is literally screaming that you have better things to do. It also distracts you from the nuances of the conversation, and keeps you from hearing what the person is really trying to tell you. Cell phones are a definite conversation killer.
  • Choose your location. Are you in a sports bar full of TVs? If they distract you, pick a seat with your back to the screens. Are you planning to meet in a noisy restaurant? Maybe suggest a quieter coffee shop. One of the biggest obstacles to good communication is your environment, so if you can control it, you should.
  • Converse. Don’t compete. Conversations are not competitions. If you are thinking about your next witty comeback while the other person is talking, you probably aren’t really listening. If a person is asking for advice, let them finish speaking before thinking about your response. It’s much better to sit in silence and allow yourself some time to think as opposed to missing a key point in the conversation because your brain was whirring louder than the other person was speaking.
  • Reserve judgment. When you allow your own thoughts, feelings or biases to color what the person is saying, you’ve already stopped listening. This quote often attributed to Mother Teresa says it best: “If you judge people, you don’t have time to love them.”  

Whether you are meeting with someone to share your faith or just catching up with a friend, actively pursuing the art of listening can improve any conversation. It isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.


What is something you do to help you listen better?
What is something that makes you feel like you aren’t being listened to?
Do you have any good resources on learning how to listen better?

Tell us in the comments below!