The 2 Cardinal Sins of Active Listening and How to Overcome Them

Learn to reap the benefits of being known as a good listener

Mike Sturm


Image credit: Jopwell

Being a good listener is important. There seems to be nearly unanimous agreement on that. And yet, many of us continue to fail at becoming good listeners. Why is that?

I have found that there are 2 primary barriers when it comes to better listening:

  • sins of omission — you simply miss stuff because you weren’t paying attention, or not fully invested in the conversation.
  • sins of misinterpretation — you may have heard everything, but you interpreted it incorrectly.

Both of these sins are the result of poor motives — just different kinds of poor motives.

We’re usually inattentive because we’ve lost interest in the person or the topic of conversation. So avoiding this is all about getting better at keeping an interest in what the other person is saying.

We usually misinterpret things — or hear what we want to hear or fear we’d hear — because we’re smuggling our own baggage into the conversation. Like the craftsman with a new hammer, every conversation tends to look like a nail — even when it’s nowhere close to being one. But unlike the problem of being attentive, this one can’t be solved by honing your interest in what someone is saying. I requires a different approach.

The great news is that both of these sins of bad listening can be avoided by some fairly simple adjustments.

Get Interested In More Things

You’ll always be more attentive to someone when they’re talking about something you were already interested in. You also won’t have to strain yourself to add something appropriate to the conversation.

So get interested in more things! Find a way to really enjoy learning about something new. No need to get obsessed and look to master a bunch of things. Just get good at getting a basic understanding of a whole bunch of different things.

After a while, it will become a habit. And you’ll find yourself going into each conversation asking what can I learn?

Lean on the 6 Degrees



Mike Sturm

Creator: — A simpler personal productivity system. Writing about productivity, self-improvement, business, and life.