You're Not Listening Summary

One Paragraph Summary In her book You're not listening, Kate Murphy gives practical advice on how everybody can become a better listener. She also shows the importance of being a good listener.

You're not listening summary

You're Not Listening—What You're Missing and Why It Matters
A book by Kate Murphy

Good listening is a dying art. For most of us, it seems more important these days to spread our opinions than to listen to the ideas of others. This change of behavior seems to have crippled our listening skills over the last years. This is a pity. There is so much to learn from the people around us.

The good news is you can learn to become a better listener. There are some simple tips you can follow to improve your listening significantly.

Murphy's book will answer one question: How can I learn to listen better?

When you follow the guidance given in the book and blinks, you will improve your personal and professional relationships too.

These are the things I learned by reading the Blinks to You are not listening:

  • My inner voice is a conversation killer
  • I categorize the people I meet, and this prevents having a good conversation with them.
  • The essential ingredient of any excellent communication is asking the right questions

  This post is based on the Blinks I listened to while walking to work. I learn from Blinkist's content each and every day. So if you enjoy this post, you will like their content even more.


Key Ideas

We do not listen because we unlearned the skill

Nowadays, we broadcast more than ever before. We write blogs. We share our photo streams, we record voice messages on apps like Signal and Telegram, and fill the chat rooms of friends and family.

Our devices indulge our fear of intimacy by fooling us into thinking that we are socially connected even when we are achingly alone.—Kate Murphy

Our attention shifted away from others to ourselves because of this constant self-broadcasting. This change let to an unfortunate effect. We do not listen anymore.

When was the last time you gave a person your fullest attention? When was the last time you were eager to understand what a person was saying?

It's hard to concentrate on the real world when you're preoccupied with the virtual one.—Kate Murphy

Because we are always connected, we will always be interrupted. Our attention span is lower than the attention span of a goldfish. This is not a joke.

Show your interest, and people will share what drives them

When you are a journalist, listening is a vital skill to have. Can you imagine to conduct interviews without listening? How would you get critical insights?

If you want people to tell you their insights and stories, you need to have a good aura and create a pleasant atmosphere. Be open and show your openness with supportive body language. Show the person you are interested in the conversation.

You can train your curiosity

Good listeners are always curious people. You are not curious, you say? Well, you can train your curiosity. Try this: go to a hotel bar and start talking to a person who seems to be bored. Try to find out everything about that person. You will be amazed by what you will hear.

When you are shifting your attention to a person, you will be amazed by how open people will respond. You can create a pleasant atmosphere and trust by opening yourself up and tell people your own story. But do not forget that you want to be the listener. So keep your personal stories short and to the point.

Good listeners do not need to talk much, just enough to show that they are genuinely following the conversation. Nodding will not be enough. Use your curiosity to find out what it is that is in the mind of the person talking.

You categorize strangers. Stop it!

Did you know that for most people, it is easier to talk to strangers than to family members? This phenomenon is called the closeness-communication bias.

If you want to improve your partnership, you should not assume that you know what your partner thinks or feels. Instead, be curious and start to listen again. Overcome your complacency you have built over the years being with your partner.

When we meet a stranger, we will start to categorize this person. We all have experiences and preconceptions about race, profession, and looks. We even put ourselves into categories. We say things like, "As a teacher, I can tell you that …", or "I am a digital-native; therefore, I can tell you …".

It will not be easy, but next time you meet a stranger, do not put them into pigeonholes. Be open, stay curious, and expect a vibrant conversation.

People with opposing world views can help you to make better decisions

Imagine you have a conversation with someone who challenges your beliefs while your brain is being scanned. Now imagine a completely different scenario. Your brain will be scanned while a bear is chasing you.

Surprise: the two brain scans will look nearly identical.

We seem to feel threatened when someone is challenging our world view. That is why we sometimes get too emotional when listening to someone who has a different world view than we do.

But we should not flee for our life only because our opinions are under test. Instead, we should foster the ability to remain uncertain and doubtful. This ability is called cognitive complexity, and it helps to make better decisions.

Do not fear opposing views. If you do not understand a person, ask. Listen and learn how they come to their opinion. Keep in mind that you do not have to agree with them. But you should care to understand their narrative.

Some responses kill a conversation

When you want to improve your listening skills, try to talk less in the conversations you are having.

There are two types of responses one can give in a conversation: shift responses and support responses.

Whenever you bring attention to yourself, it is called a shift response. When you encourage the speaker to open up and tell more, it is called a support response.

Try this: in your next conversation, try to hold back your view but encourage the other person to speak on. That means try to avoid shift responses and give more support responses.

We want to appear as being smart and competent. Therefore we often try to give answers that show our knowledge. Don't succumb to this temptation. Showing off your own experience is only killing a good conversation as those responses are often shifting the attention away from the speaker to us.

Silence your inner voice to be able to give better responses

Some of us feel the urge to control a conversation. Don't do this. Try to silence your inner voice instead. Often our inner voice is a big distraction because we want to come up with an intelligent response. Meanwhile, we might have missed some vital points the speaker tried to convey. Try to maximize your listening instead.

Look for feedback

To improve a conversation, you have to listen to what the speaker is saying, as we already learned. But you also have to listen to the responses you get while you are talking. Look for signs of interest in the answers you get from your audience. What feedback is the body language of the audience giving you?

And ask yourself what you want to get out of a conversation in the first place. There is no point in listening when you think you cannot get anything out of a conversation.


First Insight: My inner voice is a conversation killer

If you start listening to everyone as you would scan headlines on a celebrity gossip website, you won't discover the poetry and wisdom that is within people.—Kate Murphy

In his book 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the importance of first seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.

Do not listen to others merely to be able to provide an answer.

To become a better listener, keep your opinions to yourself and give instead support responses to keep the speaker's flow.

It is not essential to look smart by giving witty answers. It is more important to listen and learn. Good listening will make you smarter.

Second Insight: I categorize the people I meet, and this prevents having a good conversation with them

The truth is, we only become secure in our convictions by allowing them to be challenged.—Kate Murphy

Having experience is generally a good thing to have. But in the context of listening, it might be damaging. I often find myself pigeonholing people. There are no useful tips in the blinks on how to avoid this, but I guess the simple fact of being aware will help.

Third Insight: The essential ingredient of any excellent communication is asking the right questions

Confident people don't get riled by opinions different from their own.—Kate Murphy

Asking the right questions is probably the hardest tip to follow. I learned that I should give supportive responses. These responses can be verbal or through my body language. Looking interested, nodding, or looking confused are all supportive responses because the attention will stay with the speaker.

While I tried to follow some tips in this book, I noticed that I gave a lot of shift responses. I often shifted the attention away from the speaker to myself. Often I interrupted the speaker with remarks like "Oh, I know like you must have felt, I once …", and then I told my story instead. These kinds of answers are the practice of a lousy listener. But now that I know this trap, it will be easier to avoid in future discussions.

Still, not giving shift responses and asking the right questions instead will be a continued challenge for me.


You can improve your listening skills. And with practice, it is straightforward to do. Do not make any assumptions, and ask supportive questions. Be open and foster an atmosphere of trust and interest.

Remember, you do not have to show your knowledge. It is more important and beneficial to listen and learn.

These tips will help you to become a better colleague, partner, and friend.


  • Stop shouting, start listening
  • Stay calm and focused while listening
  • Never cross your arms or legs while having a conversation
  • Convey interest when someone is talking
  • Be curious what the other person has to say
  • Show the person your listening to what you understand and what not
  • Focus your attention away from yourself to the person you are listening to
  • Do not assume anything, be open and listen
  • Do not think you know what your partner thinks or feels
  • Do not pigeonhole the speaker
  • Listen to contrasting views; remember, you do not have to agree
  • Keep your ability to remain uncertain and doubtful
  • See opposing views as opportunities to listen more deeply
  • Ask good questions
  • Give support responses, not shift responses
  • If you want to become a better listener, talk less
  • Encourage the speaker to tell more
  • Keep your world view to yourself
  • Silence your inner voice
  • Do not control the narrative, protect the speaker's flow instead

You're not listening Summary—related resources

  You can read more articles by Kate Murphy on The New York Times website.

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Posted on CuteMachine in communication, personal development, relationships and self-improvement.

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