Collins, Hanne K., Julia A. Minson, Ariella Kristal, and Alison Wood Brooks. “Conveying and Detecting Listening During Live Conversation.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2023): 1-22.

What’s the issue?

Listening is an important and valued soft skill. But it’s difficult. People’s minds wander, they get distracted, and they are good at faking listening even when they are not. In a conversation, it can be hard to tell whether listeners are genuinely paying attention because people tend to act similarly whether they are or they aren’t.

What does the research say?

There is a difference between feeling heard and being heard. HKS Associate Professor Julia Minson and colleagues conducted studies that indicated:

  • People may appear to be listening when they are not actually paying attention.
  • Inattentive listeners may behave similarly to attentive listeners.
  • People overestimate the attentiveness of listeners.

In addition, people reported their minds wandered 24% of the time while listening. The study authors say it is important to understand that inattentiveness in conversation is common. Acknowledging, forgiving, and repairing inattentive moments in conversation can be important in building relationships and understanding.


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