Manifesto for Listening

Scrabble letters spelling out Listen More
For my book about my five senses, I’ve been investigating my sense of hearing—and so I’ve thought a lot about noise, silence, and listening. True attentive listening is powerful, and arduous. I’m not a great listener, so to help me do a better job, I wrote a Manifesto for Listening. I do love a manifesto! (For instance, you can read my Happiness Manifesto, Habits Manifesto, an Outer Order, Inner Calm Manifesto, and Podcast Manifesto.) Of course, to listen, I have to fall quiet. Just a few days ago, I realized that word “silent” has the same letters as the word “listen,” rearranged. Did everyone else know this? Here’s my Manifesto. I laminated it and stuck it up on my bulletin board to help me remember to listen better:
  • Don’t worry about what to say, think about how to listen.
  • When someone wants to talk, immediately stop what I’m doing to give my attention.
  • Show that I’m giving my attention: turn my body and eyes to face the other person; put down my book or phone; nod, make eye contact; say “mmm-hmm.”
  • Embrace thoughtful pauses; don’t rush to fill a silence.
  • No leading questions.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Listen for facts, for emotions, and for the expression of values.
  • Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings. (This is surprisingly difficult.)
  • If someone’s complaining, ask, “What do you plan to do?”
  • Don’t multi-task.
  • Paraphrase or summarize to show that I understand—or not.
  • Respect what other people want to talk about: if they bring up a subject, discuss it; if they jump away from a subject, don’t bring it up again (we all have our pet subjects that we love to discuss but others may not!)
  • Don’t jump in with judgment or suggestions.
  • Take notes if appropriate.
  • Under-react in a difficult conversation.
  • Don’t steer away from painful subjects. (I realized that I often do this, before I’m even consciously aware of what’s happening.)
  • React with enthusiasm to good news. (Especially important with Jamie: research shows that partners’ response to good news is very important for the strength of a relationship)
  • Listen for what’s not being said.
  • If appropriate, hold someone’s hand or give a touch during a tough conversation.
  • If someone wants me to make a decision, I can ask for time to consider.
  • If I find someone boring, I’m not asking the right questions.
  • Let people talk themselves into their solution, rather than supply my solution.
  • Don’t interrupt to insist that people read a book. (This may be my particular problem. Whatever the challenge, I can’t resist pushing my favorite book on the subject. This is my way of showing love, but I should listen rather than interrupt to insist, “Here, write this down, you have to read this book.”)
  • When in doubt, stop talking.
What did I miss? Please let me know. I find that distilling my aims in this way really helps.



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