You’re Not Listening

Kate Murphy

The one sentence summary

No one is listening but you can improve your life if you do.


  • This book asks the reader: When was the last time you listened to someone, or someone really listened to you? As a society we have forgotten how to listen.
  • Modern life is noisy and frenetic, and technology provides constant distraction (some people are now officially addicted to distraction.) So we tune things out or listen selectively – even to those we love most. We have become scared of other people’s points of view, and of silence. People are uncomfortable with gaps in conversation. It’s called dead air.
  • At work, we are taught to lead the conversation. On social media we shape our personal narratives. At parties we talk over one another. So do politicians. No one is listening.
  • Listening is about curiosity and patience – asking the right questions in the right way. It has the potential to transform our relationships, improve our self-knowledge, and increase our creativity and happiness.
  • We listen best when we are in sync with the other person.
  • We use assumptions as earplugs, thinking that we know what the other person is going to say. The closeness-communication bias means that we overestimate our ability to know what those closest to us are trying to say.
  • We think faster than we speak, so there is a speech-thought differential.
  • None of us is ‘woke’ or fully awake to the realities of people who are unlike us. One can only speak for one’s self.
  • Listening to opposing views makes us more entrenched, not more open-minded. Many people now show the traits of hyperpartisanship. Good listeners have negative capability – the ability to handle uncertainty without becoming irritable. Look for evidence that you might be wrong.
  • You should support, not shift, the conversation. A support response encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding. The (more common) shift response directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent.


  • Scholars can’t seem to agree on a clear definition for listening. It is variously described as the process of receiving, attending to and assigning meaning to aural stimuli.
  • The most frequently cited bad listening behaviours are interrupting; responding vaguely or illogically to what was just said; looking at a phone, watch, around the room, or away from the speaker; fidgeting (tapping on the table, frequently shifting position, clicking a pen etc.)
  • Carl Rogers coined the phrase Active Listening, but the concept is widely misunderstood. Many focus on the semblance of looking as though they are actively listening (what they do) rather than how to interpret feelings.
  • When you leave a conversation, ask yourself:

What did I just learn about that person?

What was most concerning to that person today?

How did that person feel about what we were talking about?

  • Prosody is the stress and intonation pattern of what people say. Good listeners can interpret mood from this even with the words obscured.
  • Teenagers today are being described as Generation Deaf – 1 billion of them have been exposed to chronic headphone or earbud abuse.
  • Podfasting appsallow people to listen to audiobooks in triple time.
  • Philosopher Paul Grice came up with 4 maxims for conversations:

1. Quality: we expect the truth

2. Quantity: information we don’t already know

3. Relation: we expect relevance and logical flow.

4. Manner: expect people to be reasonably brief, orderly and unambiguous.

  • “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.” Miles Davis


  • Not much. It flows well and is well researched.