Improve Your Communication Style: 5 Tips for Active Listening without Interruption

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 030

Jun 7, 2023

Exploring the Art of Listening without Interrupting

[Listen at approximately 00:12]

Listening without interruption is a powerful and often overlooked skill. Think about that person who sits with you, truly listens, and never interrupts. It's a rare and invaluable quality.

But why is it so challenging to listen effectively? What does it even mean to listen?
E030_Listening without Interrupting - An Excerpt from 'The Olive Tree' by Lucinda Riley

Listening is not just about hearing words; it's about truly understanding and being present. We often speak to be listened to, but being heard and understood is only sometimes guaranteed. We hear terms like active listening, mindfulness, being engaged, and living in the moment. Yet, how often do we find ourselves on the receiving end of a conversation, feeling cut off or disengaged? We may be pouring our hearts out or sharing inspirational ideas, only to realize that the other person isn't fully present. Perhaps they're distracted by something else, missing the opportunity for deep connection.

So, why is it so difficult to stop and offer someone the gift of being heard?
This question resonates with us all, whether in serious or lighthearted moments.

Take a moment to reflect: Why is it challenging to truly listen and be fully present?

What Does Listening Mean?

[Listen at approximately 02:34]

Have you ever thought about what listening truly means?

Most assume that listening is merely hearing the noise around you and waiting for a gap to jump in with your thoughts. But in reality, listening involves both hearing and interpretation. It goes beyond simply perceiving noise because you intake sound, vibrations, and more, so it's important to note that listening encompasses more than just the act of hearing.

When talking about different levels of listening, level one can be identified as merely hearing noise without truly paying attention, and interestingly, listening is automatic and always on; it doesn't turn off. You may find yourself waiting for your turn to speak or interrupt, impatiently focused on your own ideas. However, listening is more than that.

Listening is about hearing AND how you interpret what you hear.

You make sense of the world through interpretation, and your interpretation is shaped by your experiences, upbringing, culture, and way of working. So, it is good to recognise that your interpretations play a crucial role in your perception and response.

Miscommunication often arises when interpretations don't align, particularly in cross-cultural or cross-language environments. Your understanding may differ from the speaker's intended meaning, leading to confusion and misunderstandings. How often have you found yourself running with a clear picture in your head, only to realise it doesn't match what the other person intended? It's easy to go off on tangents or not fully listen to the entire instruction.

How often have you heard the first few words of a conversation and assumed you knew what the person meant?

It's essential to resist the temptation to jump in prematurely. Waiting until the end of someone else's speech may not be your greatest strength, but it's a skill worth developing. Listening without interrupting takes work - it's not easy to do and requires effort and practice.

Consider what you are hearing;
Consider what you are not hearing, and;
Consider how you interpret it.

By being mindful of what you hear and how you interpret it, you can enhance your understanding, reduce miscommunication, and forge stronger connections with others.

A Different Sense of What Listening Might Be

[Listen at approximately 05:40]

To help you get a slightly different sense of what listening might be, Karin had this to say:

So this comes from the body of work of Ontological Coaching - don't worry too much about what that means [in short, it is that we coach to the human soul], so we talk about:

How we interpret language.
How we hear.
How our emotions play into that because our emotions make a big difference in how we hear and interpret.

And then how do we physically react? 

So when we talk about Ontological Coaching, we talk about all these elements.
But listening is a critical piece to the language and the languaging parts of being human.
So we speak to be listened to, but it doesn't ensure that being listened to is being understood.

Listening is what we call a linguistic act. So it's part of the languaging that we are involved with, and it's never passive, always there, and a very active process. And part of our languaging consists of silent and often invisible internal conversations. And don't those noises get in the way sometimes? They can be incredibly loud. You'll hear us often say that 'listening to our listening' can be an interruption, an enemy of learning, or a range of interruptions.

So, listening is equal to hearing and interpretation. 

As humans, we are walking sets of interpretations; you think of our biases and stereotyping. All of this is part of that interpreting that we do as we move around. And our interpretations are triggered by the events and circumstances we've experienced throughout our lives, not just what's in front of us right now, but often, what's come from our past, which gets dredged up really quickly. We do have elephant memories. It's amazing what we remember.

So listening is about meaning.
It is a meaning-making activity, and we impose meaning onto the world. 

So how we hear and interpret things is how we view the world. We need to understand that listening is much more than just what we hear; it's a very physical, turned-on function of being a human being. It's also giving you a sense of why it can be so easily misunderstood and how things can be misinterpreted and go wrong; it's so easy. It's like breathing; sometimes, we breathe on the surface and don't go deeper than that.

Listening To Your Own Listening

[Listen at approximately 08:44]

Let's discuss the importance of listening to your own listening.

It may sound challenging, but with practice, you can turn off the noise in your mind and truly focus on the person in front of you. Acknowledge your thoughts as they arise, and then gently let them go. This practice lets you give full attention to the conversation and improves your ability to interpret messages accurately.

When I first learned about this concept during my coaching studies, it was a revelation. I discovered that I could acknowledge my thoughts without getting caught up in them, and by doing so, I created space to be fully present in the conversation.

Embracing moments of silence is crucial.

It gives your brain time to process information and allows the other person to formulate their thoughts. While it may feel like a prolonged pause, it's often just a matter of seconds, and by holding the space and appreciating these moments of reflection, you provide a valuable gift to others.

This practice of attentive listening applies to various areas of your life. Whether supporting a friend, making decisions, or learning something new, taking the time to truly listen has a profound impact.

It fosters understanding, strengthens relationships, and enhances communication.

Listening Without Words

[Listen at approximately 11:23]

Remember the image we shared in Podcast E024 of Pooh Bear and Piglet sitting together on a log in the forest, silently embracing the moment. That simple scene captures the essence of the power of listening. Piglet's silent presence beside a sad Pooh Bear teaches the power of listening without words.

It is a reminder that listening is not just about noise but also observation and presence. This concept aligns with the work of Nancy Kline on "Time to Think" and the value of creating space for individuals to express themselves without interruption.

Before engaging in a conversation, it's essential to set expectations.

Understanding whether someone

  • is seeking advice,
  • needs a sounding board, or
  • is simply in need of a listening ear

avoids misunderstandings and frustrations.

By honouring their need to be heard, you empower them to navigate their own thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, offering silence and non-judgmental support can be more comforting than trying to fix everything. It is best to recognise that your role is to create a safe space where they can freely express themselves and feel valued.

Truly listening means giving the gift of being heard without imposing your own perspectives or taking control of someone else's experiences.

It involves providing a safe and non-judgmental environment where individuals can freely share their thoughts and feelings. By embracing silence and letting go of the urge to fix things, you offer genuine support and empower others to find their own solutions.

Head-butting and Acronyms for Not Being Heard

[Listen at approximately 16:10]

Nuala read a post [either on LinkedIn or Instagram, she cannot remember] by a couple who were getting into serious head-butting sessions around not being heard.

So they came up with acronyms, which go something like this:

TIFy = This is for you.

This is a Dad thing - you deal with it; this is for you.
[I believe this mainly revolved around their children]

TIFm = This is for me.

I am venting; I want to let go.
I don't need you to do anything; this is for me.

TIFu = This is for us.

This is something we need to make a mutual decision on and choose a path; this is for us.

We thought this was quite lovely.

So what are your ways of letting your colleagues, friends, and spouses know what you need from them, and there is no offence taken?

How do you expand on conversational rituals without feeling guilt, shame or embarrassment when you want to say things you usually don't?

  • What mood are you in?
  • What emotional state?
  • What influences all of that?

Conversational Waste & Saying: Not Now

[Listen at approximately 18:08]

It happens so often when you don't have conversational rituals in place - the potential for misunderstanding or conflict because you get so frustrated when someone is trying to help you.

So how do you say not now? I don't need this. Now I need to be heard.

When this is taken back into the workplace, it leads to Podcast E007 around conversational waste:

  • When you don't have conversational rituals,
  • and when you don't sit and listen through the instructions clearly

because that's as much your responsibility as it is the person's telling you and giving you the instructions responsibly.

You need to make sure that I am understanding, but if I am not understanding, and you see I am not, you need to find a different way to tell me.

And that also leads into - is this a psychologically safe space to do that? Do you feel safe enough to raise your hand and say, 'I'm sorry, Mr Boss, I'm not quite understanding'.

If you can create safer spaces, you have a better understanding of what listening is, and you can appreciate that it's not just what you hear but also how you interpret, then that may go a long way towards reducing conversational waste that happens across the board in homes.

But in organisations, it's one of the most significant hidden costs.

  • How many times do you have to repeat yourself?
  • Why are you not listening correctly in the first place?

And also being able to say, depending on the conversation, that now is not a good time.

And if it's not a safety-critical, operational critical or that you have to make a decision or have to be heard right now, being able to say:

'I'm not going to be able to give you the focus you need, because I'm trying to finish this email, or I'm trying to finish this proposal. But if you give me an hour, we can meet, or we can meet over lunch, or we can meet in a coffee break, and I can give you my undivided attention.'

Then you won't feel like you're trying to multitask or letting the person who wants to be heard or yourself down because you're not going to be able to do the job you need to do effectively. But also, the person doesn't have to feel disappointed.

Sometimes we have to say I can't give you my attention right now; however, let's set a time when I can - because nothing is worse than not being heard.

The Potential for Misinterpretation

[Listen at approximately 20:58]

Nuala and Karin share some memorable incidents highlighting the importance of active listening and the potential for misinterpretation.


One example occurred during my previous marriage when I worked at a refinery. On that day, my ex-husband dropped me off in the morning and planned to pick me up in the afternoon. It was the first day of the program I was participating in, and I was brimming with excitement. During the car ride back home, I eagerly shared all the details of my amazing day and the lively group interactions.

As I was talking, I casually asked him to close the window because it was getting chilly. I continued talking, asking him again to close the window, and finally said, "Have you heard a word I've said?" He still hadn't closed the window. We both burst into laughter, recognising the humour in the situation, and it became a running joke throughout our marriage.

Whenever I felt I wasn't being listened to, I would ask, "So why's the window open". Sometimes those conversational rituals come out of awkward moments.


An example of misinterpretation stemmed from a workshop we used to conduct. During one session, there was a scenario involving 'Bob' and 'Alan' (or whatever names we used at the time), who were cleaning a small plane in a hangar. As they were wrapping up for the day, the person cleaning the plane mentioned something about turning off the hose or adding soap to the water. However, miscommunication occurred, and the end result was entirely unexpected.

When they returned the next day, the entire hangar was filled with soap bubbles and foam. It was a hilarious misunderstanding caused by hearing different instructions.

These types of moments remind you of the challenges you face when it comes to being truly heard and understood. Miscommunications can happen even with your loved ones.

However, by creating conversational rituals and establishing clear expectations you can minimise misunderstandings and strengthen your connections.

Summary of Critical Points

[Listen at approximately 23:31]

👉🏼 Speaking alone does not guarantee effective communication. Merely uttering words does not ensure that we are truly being heard or understood by others. True communication involves active listening, engaging with the speaker's message, seeking understanding, and responding thoughtfully.

👉🏼 Listening is a fascinating linguistic phenomenon. It is not a passive activity but an active process deeply ingrained in how we use language to interpret and make sense of the world around us. It goes beyond the mere act of hearing and involves the intricate interplay of words, meanings, and our personal experiences.

👉🏼 Active listening encompasses both the audible and the internal. It includes the silent and often invisible conversations we have with ourselves as we process the information we receive. Our minds constantly generate thoughts, images, and stories in response to what we hear, forming a rich tapestry of internal dialogue.

👉🏼Listening is a complex combination of hearing and interpreting. It goes beyond the surface level of receiving sound waves and involves understanding and assigning meaning to the information we receive. Our interpretations are influenced by our unique perspectives, shaped by our past experiences, cultural backgrounds, and current circumstances.

👉🏼 Listening is about making meaning. It is about constructing our own understanding of the world and the messages we encounter. We impose our personal meaning onto the information we receive, which can vary from person to person based on individual filters, biases, and interpretations.

👉🏼 Recognising that our interpretations are not absolute truths but subjective viewpoints is essential. We often interpret the world through our own lens, influenced by how we hear and perceive internal and external phenomena. Understanding this allows us to approach communication with openness and curiosity, recognising the diversity of perspectives and meanings.

👉🏼 Listening plays a vital role in effective communication. With attentive and active listening, communication remains deeper and complete. Genuine understanding, connection, and empathy arise from the willingness to listen truly, to be present, and to engage with others' perspectives and experiences.

👉🏼 The power of active listening transcends language barriers. Whether we communicate through spoken words, sign language, or different languages, the ability to listen actively and interpret meaning fosters understanding and connection across diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds.

In essence, active listening is a cornerstone of authentic communication. It allows us to navigate the world's complexities, make sense of our experiences, and build meaningful connections with others.

Embrace the Profound Gift of Listening

[Listen at approximately 26:02]

We [Safety Collaborations] experience these situations regularly, often working with people from diverse cultures and languages, sometimes even with a significant language barrier. However, if we take the time to listen, not just with our ears but also with our eyes, we can decipher the meaning behind these conversations.

Karin shares a story that illustrates this.

I was in China, riding on a bus with my friend Greg, an Australian living there for six months, teaching English as a second language and learning Mandarin himself. We were on a rickshaw, and Greg was fervently trying to communicate with the driver, who, in turn, was trying to convey his message to Greg. Unfortunately, Greg was so focused on getting the language right amidst their disjointed conversation that he completely missed the point. I was merely observing, taking in the scene.

After a while, it became clear to me that all the rickshaw driver wanted was for us to get off and wait on the side while he went to fetch his cousin, who would then take us to a restaurant for dinner. The driver nodded in agreement, unable to speak English but understanding the essence of the situation. It was incredible how by simply watching, listening, and interpreting, I was able to grasp the whole picture. It may not always be perfect, but the key is to keep trying and learning from these experiences.

In these moments, we have the privilege of embracing the profound gift of listening.

Being truly heard is a remarkably powerful and empowering experience, both for the speaker and the listener. It is an opportunity to create a deep connection and understanding, to acknowledge someone's thoughts, feelings, and perspectives.

The act of genuinely listening is a precious present we can offer to others, affirming their worth and validating their experiences. Through active listening, we elevate the voices and stories of those around us, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual respect.

So let us celebrate this gift of listening and cherish the transformative impact it can have on our relationships and the world we inhabit.

Our Top 5 for Listening

🌟 Check in to what the expectation is - to fix, advise, listen

🌟 Listen to hear what the other person is saying

🌟 Set aside judgments, advice, assumptions, and your own thoughts

🌟 Be aware of distractions

🌟 Do not interrupt - embrace the power of silence

Always celebrate the gift you are giving - Being heard is a very powerful and empowering present.

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.