Listening and hearing are not the same thing: not everyone is able to follow the thoughts of the speaker. To understand whether the interlocutor is listening to you, it is enough to recognize several speech patterns.


There are many popular techniques that purportedly help you “hear the other person better” and create a sense of belonging. Active listening, repeating the speaker’s thoughts, mirroring key words are just a few examples.

But not all of these tactics are effective, and the real interest of the listener can sometimes be understood by simple phrases from the conversation. To identify them, American scientists analyzed a number of behaviors that, according to popular belief, seem benevolent, but in fact hide the lack of attentive listening.

Few people really know how to listen, says Harvard Medical School research team

According to their latest research, it’s not enough just to be able not to interrupt the speaker. You should also not try to unconsciously switch the discussion to giving advice or sympathy.

According to scientists, some common techniques, such as active listening, can be counterproductive. In most cases, they explain, the mere fact of spending time together or repeating what your interlocutor says does not always make it possible to understand him.


To illustrate their point, the researchers presented and analyzed three situations.

Situation 1

Employee: I’m worried about the presentation for the board meeting.

Manager: Oh, well done. Years passed before I was able to give presentations without getting nervous.

Situation 2

Colleague A: I really need a vacation

Colleague B: You should go to a rural resort in the mountains. I just got back from there and it was the best vacation I’ve had in years. I will send you details about it.

Situation 3

Patient: I am afraid of this procedure.

Nurse: Our surgeon has performed hundreds of these surgeries and the complication rate has always been low.

Although experts acknowledge that the interviewees’ answers are sincere, they suggest that if you read between the lines, you can see that the interviewees are not always interested in the conversation.

In their opinion, the above reactions do not correspond to the external needs of the interlocutors.

The scholars write: “An employee concerned about a board meeting may want critical feedback rather than premature reassurance; Colleague A’s flippant statement about the need for a vacation may hint at deeper unspoken issues not resolved by the offer of a vacation spot, and the patient may have hidden emotional problems overlooked when trying to calm down, ”the researchers say. Assumptions that we know what others are thinking prevent us from understanding them.


The situations presented by the experts serve to illustrate an important aspect of human interaction. “Like other important communication skills, the ability to listen depends on the understanding of the purpose, our own qualities and the choice of response,” the researchers say.

However, you can learn to be a good listener with practice. So, in order to better learn to listen, we must first “learn to be silent,” explains psychotherapist Christel Petitcollin. “It’s unnatural at first, but the more you learn to listen, the more you enjoy doing it. And for good reason: when you sincerely listen, people become interesting, ”says the expert.