How to be a Good Non-Listener

I am happy to announce that my years of research are almost over. The blood, sweat, and tears will finally pay off. Soon, I will complete the first of its kind Guide on How to be a Good Non-Listener! For your benefit, I’ve extracted a few of the practices, strategies, and tools featured in the Guide to help improve your non-listening skills.

1) Don’t be afraid to mute the TV during a phone conversation.  What you think will happen is that muting the TV will force you to listen more closely to the conversation. But what will actually happen is that you will start reading the closed-captioning on the TV which will require at least 80 percent of your attention and brain energy leaving only 20 percent available for the conversation. If you watch the show on regular volume, that will only require about 50 percent of your attention and brain energy, thus leaving a full 50 percent to the conversation…and making you miss more of your show. So research has shown that watching the TV on mute will actually increase your ability to non-listen. 

2) While you are actively not listening during a conversation, be sure to give the appropriate cues that you are listening. Sprinkle your responses with a reasonable number of “I know, right!’s”, “Wow, really’s?”, and “Yeah…well…you know’s…” That works in most cases. Although sometimes you’ll get hit with a “So, what would you do if you were me?” And then it’s harder to hide that you weren’t paying attention. So, if on the phone, the most effective strategy is just to drop the phone or “accidentally” hang up and say that the call dropped or something. This will buy you a little time. If face-to-face, you should say, “Okay, let me make sure I got this right…she said what to you? ‘Cuz I wanna make sure I got everything.” This means they’ll have to repeat it. This gives you an opportunity to get the story again (the catch is that you actually have to listen the second time around). It’ll make you seem like a great friend for being so interested in the details. If there is a third party in the conversation, this can definitely work to your advantage because you can say, “You know what? I don’t even know. I need to think about that some more. What do you think, third party?” Now, while third party is talking, you can use context clues from their response to piece together what the original situation was and then craft your response. Or, just as well, make it easy on yourself and simply “co-sign” what third party had to say.

 3) Change the subject. This is one of the most effective tools for non-listening if you do it right. This method is most often used during workplace conversations. It works so well because you can make the person talking totally forget what they were talking about or that they were talking about anything at all. Thus diffusing the situation and making you not have to listen. It’ll go something like this:

“So I called him and I said—”

“WAIT! Hold that thought cuz I need to make sure I get this full story! First, let’s get some cupcakes! The cupcake van just pulled up outside, and I’m about to go out there, do you wanna go? We can continue the conversation while we stand in line. Better yet, how ‘bout you just tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you cuz it’s sooooooo hot outside. No point in both us standing out there and sweating, right? What flavor do you want? They have chocolate cake with chocolate icing, vanilla cake with vanilla icing, vanilla cake with coconut icing, yellow cake with chocolate icing, yellow cake with raspberry icing, carrot cake with cream cheese icing, red velvet cake with cream cheese icing…”

“I think I just want the vanilla one.”

“The vanilla one with vanilla icing or the vanilla one with coconut icing?”

“The vanilla one with vanilla icing.”

“You know, that’s probably the better choice because I read somewhere last week that like 2.91 percent of the population have coconut allergies and don’t even know it. The side effects can be brutal! You just never know!”

“Really? I didn’t know that. Thanks for looking out for me!”

“You’re welcome! Let me run outside before the line gets too long…”

When you come back to deliver the cupcake, drop it off and say “I’ll be right back, let me run and get a paper towel to wipe my forehead/wash my hands/read up on some notes really quick before my next meeting. And then “forget” to go back. You won’t get reimbursed, but $3 is a small price to pay, right? Listening crisis avoided.

 4) Listen. No, really. Actually listen to what they have to say. But do it for selfish reasons. You never know when your blog material is going to dry up 😉 . So, go ahead. Listen. You might just learn something…

What methods do you use for effective non-listening? I’m listening – Honest! Share with me in the comments section.


About Magnet for Foolishness

Resident of the DMV…and my incessant thoughts. Always hungry. Comedy craver. Ice cream freak. Reality TV show junkie. Slightly opinionated. Rarely wrong. Part Lisa Simpson. Part Sue Sylvester. Part Meredith Grey. Renowned chef and baker…avid gardener…pet lover…sometimes liar. Effortlessly forgetful. Always hungry. Blindly hopeful. Easily embarrassed (NOT). Eerily observant. Searching for something. Disregarding parallelism. Chronically tardy. Ruthlessly impatient. Surprisingly affectionate. Unnecessarily long-winded.
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16 Responses to How to be a Good Non-Listener

  1. Sugarmama says:

    Listening during a TV show is almost impossible. I tried it and doesn’t work. You end up frustrated because you missed some of the show or upset that the person on the phone has to repeat everything they just said, which means you miss even more of the show. I just tell folks I call them later, especially if Criminal Minds in on. You can forget a conversation or a text from me. It’s one of my favorite shows.


    • Yeah, I try to tell myself that since most of my TV show diet consists of reality shows on VH1, E!, and Bravo, they will re-run the show again before the night is over. So it’s okay if I miss something because I will be able to see it again. But it’s not the same…


  2. All my friends know that my mind can only focus on one thing for about 53 seconds. So I just tell them, “You know I tuned you out so if you want a real honest answer to your question or my honest opinion, you know you’ll have to repeat everything you just said.” I usually listen the second time around….I can never get anything right on the first try. 🙂


  3. Sumer says:

    Please know that during I our next dinner, I will be watching you for these clues to see if you really AREN’T listening, lol.


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  5. reneepicard says:

    Hm, I’ve actually told a couple of guys that I’ve dated: hey, I know you aren’t going to be listening all the time, but at least pretend. That’s all I ask, is for you to pretend. I ask this with the small hope that they ‘fake it ’till they make it,’ but also just acknowledging, hey, you’re there, you’re half-listening, and sometimes (if I’m not really talking about anything important, and I’m generally in a good mood) – that’s good enough, because I am not the best at it sometimes either.


  6. Ave Valencia says:

    #2 can totally backfire though.
    I know someone who would just cue-listen to his mother-in-law, until one day he said it was “wonderful” when she told him that she was sick.


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  8. Flying Yenta says:

    Great tips on non listening, especially the ice cream example. I find that repeating the few words/ sentences I remember (preferably in the same order they were recited) tends to do it. That pretty much proves you were at least “hearing,” rendering their suspicions moot. Gosh, it just feels wrong to admit this on a public forum!


    • Nah, we all do it. But only an elite few will admit to it! After I published this post, I had a surprising number of people tell me that they could relate. But they TOLD me as opposed to commenting on this post…clearly they didn’t want to leave evidence that they are non-listeners as well, lol.


  9. Shaneice says:

    This is where texting comes into play. I don’t have to listen to them, because we’re just texting, and if I need to back and reference it’s right there.


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