Book notes: You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy book summary review and key ideas.

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You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy


At work, we’re taught to lead the conversation. 

On social media, we shape our personal narratives. 

At parties, we talk over one another. So do our politicians. 

We’re not listening. 

And no one is listening to us. 

Despite living in a world where technology allows constant digital communication and opportunities to connect, it seems no one is really listening or even knows how. And it’s making us lonelier, more isolated, and less tolerant than ever before. A listener by trade, New York Times contributor Kate Murphy wanted to know how we got here. 

In this always illuminating and often humorous deep dive, Murphy explains why we’re not listening, what it’s doing to us, and how we can reverse the trend. She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there (including a CIA agent, focus group moderator, bartender, radio producer, and top furniture salesman). Equal parts cultural observation, scientific exploration, and rousing call to action that’s full of practical advice, You’re Not Listening is to listening what Susan Cain’s Quiet was to introversion. It’s time to stop talking and start listening.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I believe I got this recommendation via Audible. Not sure what to expect but I’m sure it’s gonna be a good book. I think listening is super important and something more people need to learn about. Developing the skill of listening is a super important skill as a leader and dealing with people in general.

Key notes:

Reader’s note: So apparently this author is a professional listener and this book is a guide on how to listen better. I personally feel like listening is one of the skills I’ve been trying to develop the most. It’s something I’m trying to improve and cultivate as it is one of the most powerful tools for leadership

Chapter one: the lost Art of Listening

Reader’s note: The author is going into how loneliness in society today is a real epidemic because of how people are feeling disconnected from each other

  • Truly listening to someone is a skill many people seem to have forgotten or perhaps never learned in the first place
  • Bad listeners aren’t necessarily bad people
  • Even the majority of the content created online is created by a small subsection of people
    • The majority of the people are just lurkers or observers
  • When she asked people who listens to them, a lot of them had to pause and couldn’t answer
    • Only a lucky few could name one or two people
    • But many of the people said they spoke to professionals who they paid to listen to them
  • Most of the people who claim to be good listeners are probably not
  • We opt for digital communications like email or text so that we can give the minimal amount of attention needed for that interaction
  • Not being able to listen will prevent you from discovering the poetry and wisdom within people

Chapter 2: that sinking feeling – the neuroscience of listening

  • Listening more than any other activity plugs you into life
    • Listening helps you understand yourself as well as those speaking to you
  • Hearing and listening are not the same things
    • Hearing is passive while listening is active
      • The best listeners focus their attention and recruit other senses to the effort
  • Understanding is the goal of listening and it takes effort
  • The more you listen to someone and the more that person listens to you, the more likely you two will be of like minds
  • Children with parents who are more attentive to their kids tend to develop more functioning and secure attachment style, whereas the opposite would develop a more insecure anxious attachment style in their children when they grew up
    • Parents who gave too much attention or were overly smothering to their kids can lead to the children developing avoidant attachment styles and will shut down when listening if things become too close
  • Listening is about the experience of being experienced
    • It’s when someone takes an interest in who you are and what you are doing
    • The lack of being known and except it in this way leads to feelings of inadequacy and emptiness

Chapter 3: Listening to Your Curiosity – What We Can Learn from Toddlers

  • Listening requires more than anything curiosity
  • Everybody is interesting if you can ask the right questions
    • If they seem dull or uninteresting, it’s on you
  • Book reference: How to Win Friends and Influence People
    • You can make more friends quickly by becoming interested in people than trying to spend a lot of time trying to make people interested in you

Chapter 4: I Know What You’re Going to Say – Assumptions as Earplugs

  • Dunbar’s number is the cognitive limit to the number of people you can realistically manage in a social network
    • He says it’s about 150 people that you are capable of knowing well enough to comfortably join for a drink if you bump into them
    • You don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to maintain connections with more people than that
      • But among those 150 people, there are hierarchical layers of friendship that are determined by how much time you spend with a person
    • It’s like a wedding cake where the topmost layer consists of only one or two people like a spouse or a best friend with whom you’re most intimate and interact with almost daily
    • The next layer can accommodate at most four people for whom you have a great affinity, affection, and concern
      • Friendships at this level require weekly attention to maintain
    • Below that the tiers contain friends that are more casual who you see less often and your ties are more tenuous
      • At this point, they fall into acquaintances. You can be friendly but they are not friends as you’ve lost touch with who they are because they’re always evolving
        • But you wouldn’t miss them terribly or notice if they moved out of town
  • An exception might be friends for whom you feel like you can pick up right where you picked off even though you haven’t talked to them for ages
    • These are usually friendships forged through extensive and deep listening at some point in your life, usually during an emotionally wrought time like college or early adulthood or during a personal crisis
      • It’s almost like you’ve banked the experience of listening to them so that you can draw on it and relate and understand them at a later point
    • Put another way, having listened well and often to someone in the past makes it easier to get back on the same wavelength when you get out of sync perhaps due to a physical separation
  • Listening to people who aren’t close to us brings in another set of biases, but they are also rooted in false assumptions
    • Most notably confirmation bias and expectancy bias, which are caused by a craving for order and consistency
      • To make sense of a large and complex world, we create file folders in our heads into which we drop people usually before they even start talking
        • The categories can be broad stereotypes based on our culture or more individualistic based on experience
  • They can be helpful and accurate in some instances, but if we are not careful, our rush to categorize and classify can diminish our understanding and distort reality
    • It makes us jump to conclusions about people before we even get to know who they really are
  • Staying in touch or keeping up with someone is nothing more than listening to what’s on that person’s mind
    • The frequency with which you check in determines the longevity and strength of the relationship

Chapter 5: The Tone-Deaf Response – Why People Would Rather Talk to Their Dog

  • People are more likely to feel understood if a listener responds by giving descriptive and evaluative information
    • Good listening requires interpretation of the interplay
  • Good listeners help the speaker figure out why they’re telling you this by asking questions and encouraging elaboration
    • This is called active listening
  • A good listener tries to pick up on tone and ask clarifying questions when needed
  • The greatest crisis negotiation tactic is listening
  • Good listeners are practiced listeners

Chapter 6: talking like a tortoise, thinking like a hare – The speech thought differential

  • The speech-thought differential is the fact that we can think faster than someone can talk
    • When someone else talks, our brain is going so fast that we take mental side trips during it 
  • The more you think about the right thing to say, the more you’ll miss when listening. In turn, the more likely you’ll see the wrong thing when is your turn
  • Repaired riffs are the fabric of relationships rather than patches on them

Chapter 7: Listening to Opposing Views – Why It Feels Like Being Chased by a Bear 

  • While listening to someone, your internal stance should be of curiosity
    • You must ask questions out of curiosity and not to prove a point, set a trap, change someone’s mind, or make someone look foolish
  • Some people fear listening and understanding because they feel like they will lose sight of what really matters to them and makes them less firm in their own opinions
  • Listening is the only way to have an informed response
    • Someone who has been listened to is far more likely to listen to you
    • Listening begets more listening
  • Listen to find evidence that you might be wrong instead of listening to poke holes in another person’s argument
    • It requires a sort of generosity of spirit
  • Good listeners have negative capability
    • They are able to cope with contradictory ideas and gray areas
    • They know there’s usually more to the story than initially appears, and are not so eager for tidy reasoning and immediate answers, which is perhaps the opposite of being narrowminded
    • Negative capability is also at the root of creativity because it leads to new ways of thinking about things
  • Negative capability is known as cognitive complexity, which research shows is positively related to self-compassion and negatively related to dogmatism
  • The manager’s most important role is to give the quiet ones a voice
  • To listen does not mean or even imply that you agree with someone
    • It simply means you accept the legitimacy of the other person’s point of view and that you might have something to learn from it
    • It also means that you embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths and understanding them all might lead to a larger truth

Chapter 8: Focusing on What’s Important – Listening in the Age of Big Data

  • Focus groups have always been a huge part of product development
  • Even despite the shift to using a lot of big data, researchers and experts still see the value in actually listening to people directly in focus groups
  • The power of qualitative research, the power of listening, is that it explains the numbers and possibly reveals how the numbers come up short
  • Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches may not give you the whole truth, but you’ll get a truer truth

Chapter 9: Improvisational Listening – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work

  • Google’s research into their own teams revealed that the highest-performing teams had members who spoke in roughly the same proportion
    • The best teams also had a higher average social sensitivity, which means they were good at intuiting each other’s feelings based on nonverbal cues
  • In other words, Google found out that successful teams listen to one another
    • They took turns, heard each other out, and listened to nonverbal cues to pick up unspoken thoughts and feelings
    • This created an atmosphere of more psychological safety, which means people are more likely to share information and ideas without fear of being talked over or dismissed
  • In improv comedy, listening is one of the most important things for skills you can develop to improve your comedy
    • Improv experts see improv as additionally therapeutic because it helps people see the behaviors they have that prevent them from connecting with people
  • Listening is essential in being funny
    • Humor is an asset in forming and maintaining relationships both professionally and personally
    • In work environments, successful attempts at humor lead to perceptions of competence and confidence
    • In romantic relationships, successful humor is a gauge of intimacy and security

Chapter 10: Conversational Sensitivity – What Terry Gross, LBJ, and Con Men Have in Common

  • People who have conversational sensitivity not only pay attention to spoken words, but they also have a knack for picking up hidden meanings and nuances in tone
    • They are good at recognizing power differentials and are quick to distinguish affectation from genuine affection
    • They remember more of what people say and tend to enjoy or at least be interested in the conversation
  • You can only be as intimate with another person as you are intimate with yourself
  • Good listeners are better at both deceiving and detecting deceit
  • We incorrectly assume other people’s logic and motivations resemble our own
    • Misunderstandings can be seen as an opportunity to listen more closely and inquire more deeply

Chapter 11: Listening to Yourself – The Voluble Inner Voice

  • How you talk to yourself affects how you hear other people
    • Your inner voice influences how you ponder things, interpret situations, make moral judgments and solve problems
    • This in turn influences how you are in the world, whether you see the best or the worst in people and whether you see the best or worse in yourself

Chapter 12: Supporting, Not Shifting, the Conversation

  • The shift response moves the focus of the conversation away from the speaker and toward the respondent
    • The support response, which is less common, encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain a greater understanding
    • Good listeners are all about the support response, which is critical to providing the kind of acknowledgment and evaluative feedback, as well as avoiding misunderstandings
    • Shift responses are symptomatic of conversational narcissism which quashes Any chance of connection
      • Shift responses are usually self-referential statements while support responses are often other-directed questions
  • Good interactions must outnumber bad ones by at least 5:1 for a relationship to succeed
  • Open and honest questioning is essential for basic understanding
    • It allows people to tell their stories, express the realities, and find the resources within themselves to figure out how they feel about a problem to figure out the next steps
  • Article reference: The 36 Questions That Lead to Love
  • What is love but listening to and wanting to be part of another person’s evolving story?
    • It’s true of all relationships, romantic and platonic
      • And listening to a stranger is possibly one of the kindest, most generous things you can do

Chapter 13: Hammers, Anvils, and Stirrups – Turning Sound Waves into Brain Waves

  • There’s an argument for listening to as many sources as possible to keep your brain as agile as possible
  • The right ear advantage: our language comprehension is generally better and faster when heard in the right ear versus the left
  • There’s a left ear advantage: when it comes to the recognition of emotional aspects of speech as well as the perception and appreciation of music and sounds in nature
  • Sometimes the overstimulation of visual cues can be overwhelming especially when the subject matter is intense
    • This is why some people opt to use a phone call when bringing up potentially emotional discussions or when in the car so they can avoid visual stimuli, or in a darkened room in bed
    • Having these blind conversations is a give-and-take
    • Most of our communication comes non-verbally so you’ll miss a lot of the context
    • However, in the cases where nonverbal indicators would get in the way of the articulation of the message or affect how accurately the message is interpreted, it’s good to take into account

Chapter 14: Addicted to Distraction

  • Our collective attention span since the year 2000 has decreased by several seconds
    • Businesses now spend so much money to try and capture and keep our attention
  • We lose the ability to detect conversational nuance when we are so used to listening to everything at double speed
    • We also get the feeling of anxiety when we have to listen to a normal-paced conversation
  • Studies show that even the presence of a phone on a table makes people feel more disconnected

Chapter 15: What Words Conceal and Silences Reveal

  • Different cultures have different levels of comfort with silence and listening versus constantly talking
  • Research shows that being able to comfortably sit in silence is actually a sign of a secure relationship
  • Higher-status people are also less likely to get agitated from gaps in conversation
  • To be a good listener is to accept pauses and silences because filling them in too soon and preemptively prevents the speaker from communicating perhaps what they’re struggling to say
    • It stops collaboration and prevents real issues from coming to the surface
      • Just wait and give the other person a chance to pick up where they left off
  • In negotiation, listening and being silent can give you a huge advantage

Chapter 16: The Morality of Listening: Why Gossip Is Good for You

  • Gossip, which is defined as two people talking about someone not present, can help with moral development and help people figure out who they can trust
  • Listening itself is a virtue that makes us worthy of valuable information
    • Not everything needs to be said as you’re feeling it
      • In fact, sometimes it’s better to wait until you aren’t feeling it quite so strongly
  • In interviewing for this book, many people mentioned regret for not listening fully or being too distracted to listen to something they should have
  • Social regrets tend to be more intense than non-social regrets

Chapter 17: When to Stop Listening

  • The best communicators, whether addressing a crowd or an individual, are people who have listened and listened well in the past and continue to listen in the moment
    • Listening is something you should also do while talking
  • Journaling is a way to do reflective listening after the conversation to potentially pull out more insights
  • Personal information given in private is like currency
    • You’re free to give away and spend your own, but you should never give out other people’s private information unless explicitly told even if you don’t think it’s embarrassing or if you thought it’s widely known
  • Not listening is a form of rejection
    • It can be hurtful even if not meant to be and can be cruel when used as a weapon such as with ghosting
  • Sometimes we withdraw in response to criticism, but often times what we think we least want to hear is the most beneficial
  • Listening is the simplest way to demonstrate you respect someone

Closing thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book! It discussed a lot of great points about listening, such as why it’s so important, how it affects our relationships, and how to get better at it.

Most people don’t realize how important listening is to developing and deepening relationships as it allows others to be heard and experienced. It also benefits us by being better able to obtain more data and perspectives in order to find the larger truths.

Overall, this is a great book and one that I would highly recommend to pretty much everyone. Especially since we are social creatures who are constantly interacting with others and forming relationships. And they say that the higher the quality of our relationships, the higher quality of a life we’ll have.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

While there are many good points in this book, one of my favorite and more unique points I learned from this book was the concept of negative capability:

  • Negative capability is also at the root of creativity because it leads to new ways of thinking about things
  • People who have negative capability are able to cope with contradictory ideas and gray areas and are not so eager for tidy reasoning and immediate answers
  • Negative capability is known as cognitive complexity, which research shows is positively related to self-compassion and negatively related to dogmatism

This concept of being able to accept and juggle contradictory ideas is very interesting because most of the time, people tend to want to simplify and generalize the world around them to make it more easily understood. They also tend to ignore data that is contrary to their firmly held beliefs.

However, this concept says that even though it may be difficult, the skill of being able to listen and accept that the world isn’t black and white is important. There can be multiple truths and perspectives, will allow us to better navigate the world and our relationships.


Why listening is so important and how to get better at it.

Similar books:


Rating: 4 out of 5.


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