The Anatomy of Listening Effectively

He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.
Proverbs 18:13 NIV

 I’ll admit it. I’ve always considered myself a good listener. I was wrong. Not until I read Stephen Covey’s book, The 8th Habit, did I realize how limited my listening skills have been.

Perhaps my biggest mistake is trying to formulate a response while someone is still talking with me. Instead of giving my full attention to the speaker, I’m guilty of (1) allowing my mind to race ahead trying to solve a problem and (2) busy deciding if I agree (or not) with the one talking. In either scenario, I’m not fully engaged in what’s being said and, therefore, I’m not listening effectively. This, I realize, has to change.

As everyone might guess, communication is the most important skill in life. Given that people spend about two-thirds of their time reading, writing, speaking, or listening, we can’t dismiss honing our communication skills.

There is one of these areas, however, that takes up between forty and fifty percent of a person’s time every day. Can you guess which area?

It is listening.

Most people think they know how to listen because they do it so much. But the truth is, the majority of us listen solely within our own frame of reference. There are five levels of everyday listening beginning at the lowest level and include:

  • Ignoring
  • Pretend listening (patronizing)
  • Selective listening
  • Attentive listening
  • Empathic listening

The first four areas in this continuum fall within one’s own frame of reference. Only within the last, empathic listening, does a person actually transcend their own autobiography, moving out of their own history and judging tendencies, and getting deeply into another person’s viewpoint and frame of reference.

We must underscore that the primary need to feel understood is like the body’s need for air in the lungs. Unless and until a person feels understood (and listened to), you will get no further in communication with that individual.

Here are some practical insights on how to further develop your ability to listen empathetically (and well).

Be sincerely open to what others see and why they see the world as they do.

  • People react to new information based on their previous experiences and personal history.
  • There are always multiple ways to interpret information. Keep this in the mental forefront of every conversation.
  • Frequently, communication breaks down because of how people define the words spoken. However, when a spirit of empathy is present, true understanding heightens.

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by: Michele Howe

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MicheleHoweMichele Howe is the author of twelve books for women and has published over 1600 articles, reviews, and curriculum to more than 100 different publications. Her articles and reviews have been published in Good Housekeeping, First For Women, Single Parent Family, Christian Single, and many other publications. Michele’s single parenting titles include Going It Alone and Still Going It Alone. After having undergone six shoulder surgeries, Michele saw the need for a women’s inspirational health-related book co-authored with her orthopedic surgeon titled, Burdens Do a Body Good: Meeting Life’s Challenges with Strength (and Soul), released in 2010 and from which Prescription for Life, their health, medical and surgical informational book, is based.

About Be the Light Editor

Martin Wiles is a minister, author, freelance editor, and English teacher who lives in Greenwood, SC. He is the founder of Love Lines from God and is the author of Grits & Grace and God and Grits, Gumbo and Going to Church. He serves as Managing Editor for Christian Devotions ( and Assistant Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. He and his wife are parents of two and grandparents of three.