When Was the Last Time You Actually Listened to Someone?

Think back to everyone you’ve met in the past month. Maybe a new employee joined your team, you went on a date, or attended a networking event. Whoever it may be, you engaged yourself in a conversation: an exchange of thoughts and ideas mixed in with listening and a tiny bit of processing.

Conversations aren’t hard. For many of us, it’s our job to talk with strangers every day, starting the “get-to-know-you” process over – from scratch. The people who talk with strangers have the strongest conversations. They’ve learned how to push them forward and build rapport.

But many people haven’t.

And when you run across these people, your conversations are on a different level. You dominate the talking time, and make it seem like an interview. But it’s not your fault.

Conversations take at least two people (unless you’re having a conversation in your head). They can stop abruptly, continue on for hours, or not happen at all.

For me, I love when conversations continue back-and-forth like ping-pong. When you meet someone who is invested in learning about you, someone who plays Devil’s advocate, and is challenged to change their perspective. Why aren’t you having conversations like this?

Autobiographical listening.

It’s when you listen to someone without understanding what they’re saying. You scan their sentences for what  you can say about yourself – not for what  you can learn from them. It’s not a ground-breaking idea. In fact, it’s straight out of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But, I bring it up, because for years I was guilty of it.

I would “listen” and immediately start talking about myself. I would tell them stories about me, how their story relates to me.

Wrong. Don’t do it.

When you’re in a conversation with someone don’t talk in a silo. Try incredibly hard to listen to them. Then ask a question.

If you’ve been listening, you should be able to come up with a million questions to ask them. Or, if they’re venting, don’t talk about you. Find out more about them. They came to you to seek help and advice.

Get the “me, me, me” side of your brain to shut up.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to break the habit of doing. And I’m still working on it. But, on the plus side, I have noticed remarkably different conversations these past few months. I’m more supportive, inquisitive, and, quite frankly, amazed at what I’ve been missing out on.

So, I’m giving you a challenge: In one of your conversations this week, try not to talk about yourself. In turn, ask a question – or make a comment – on what your friend, family member, or stranger just said. I guarantee your conversation skills will sky-rocket. Plus, you’ll notice how appreciative they are that you’re actually listening.

Good luck putting your ears to use.


About the Author

Michael Adams is a 26-year old entrepreneur living in Vermont. He writes about personal improvement, marketing, bootstrapping his startup, and life's general observations. Learn more about him.


  1. Nice tips Man. I think I have to be using it in my conversation from now on.

    • Hey Richie,

      Thanks for stopping by! It’s definitely changed how I’ve led and listened in many of my conversations over the past few months. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

  2. I just read one of your articles on under30ceo. Love what I’m reading on your blog too.

    This is such a simple idea, but so powerful and so underutilized. We learn to talk at such a young age, but it takes so long to really learn how to communicate. My wife and I talk about communication all the time. From now on we will use your phrase “autobiographical listening” every chance we get.

    What other good books have you read about communication? I always appreciate recommendations.

    • Hey, Ryan! Thanks for stopping over from U30CEO! Glad I’m seeing some traffic from my posts there. Making a conscious effort not to engage in autobiographical listening is probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever done. I have even found myself apologizing to people for not listening because all I had in my head was about me.

      I haven’t read too many books on communication, but the one that started it all was this one: Listening: The Forgotten Skill. It’s kind of text-booky and dry, but its got plenty of fundamental listening techniques.

      Hope that helps and thanks again for reading.

  3. Six Things I’ve Learned After Living a Quarter Century | Michael Adams
    February 26, 2013 - 5:42 am

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