Quick Review: You’re not Listening by Kate Murphy

“The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said that nature had given men one tongue but two ears for a reason. That we might hear from another twice as much as we speak.”

– You’re Not Listening, Kate Murphy

If you have read a few books about communication, negotiating and persuasion you know that these books often only touch the surface on the subject listening, so when I found a book fully dedicated to the subject I knew I had to pick it up.

You’re Not Listening tackles questions about why we might overlook the art of listening in modern culture and what you can do to improve your listening skills.

Key Lessons and Takeaways

Conditioning and upbringing

“Bad listeners are not necessarily bad people.”

Not everyone has the skill, and in some ways we have been conditioned not to listen. When a parent says, “Listen!’, we are probably not going to like what comes next. When a coach shouts, “Listen up!”, then what follows is often a list of rules and restrictions.

We also inherited the way we listen to some degree.

“We tend to listen as we were listened to as children.”

Many caregivers ignore their children in favor of their phones. This empowrish children’s development. Which suggests that the so called “screen generation” that are now coming of age might struggle to connect with other people.

Listening and social Media.

Social media might play a role in why listening is taking a backseat in online converstation. In social media you are “rewarded” with social proof for what you say, and you are often rewarded by the algorithm by how MUCH you say and how OFTEN you speak your mind.. Listening is not even a thing in quasi-dialogue that is happening on social media.

Coupling and syncing of brain waves.

Neuro science shows that when you truly connect with another person your brain activities sync. The more overlap between the speaker’s brain activity and the listener’s brain activity the better the communication. The brains of really close friends react similarly when watching short video clips for instance.

Video Review of You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

Conversational Narcissism

The book describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment.

The Shift Response:
Anne: I’m so busy right now.
Bill: Me, too. I’m totally overwhelmed.

The Support Response:
Anne: I’m so busy right now.
Bill: Why? What do you have to get done?

Good Listeners is all about the support response!

Report vs. Interrogation

Peppering people with appraising and personal questions like:

  • What do you do for a living?
  • What part of town do you live in?
  • What school did you go to?
  • Are you married?

This is interrogating. You are not trying to get to know the other person–you are sizing them up. It makes people defensive, and probably shifts the conversation to a more shallow direction.

Ask better questions

If a person is not interesting, then it’s on you!

“When leaving a conversation ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What did I just learn about this person?
  2. What was most concerning to this person today?
  3. How did that person feel about what we were talking about?

If you can’t answer those questions then you probably need to work on your listening.”

Hearing & Listening

Many people might be bad listeners because they truly can’t hear well and their brains work in strange ways to make up for it.
“…hearing loss in the long run leads to a litany of poor emotional and societal outcomes including, but not limited to:

  • 😤 Irritability, negativism, anger.
  • 😔 Fatigue,tension stress and depression
  • 😟 Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations.
  • 🙅‍♂️ Social rejection and loneliness
  • 📉 Reduced job performance and earring power.
  • ❤️ 🧠 Diminished psychological and overall health.

This is not solely due to lack of hearing, but the resulting loss of connection it can bring.

The Speech-Thought Time Differiential

When you zone out of a conversation it’s often due to the speech/thought differential which refers to the face that we can think much faster than someone can talk. The average person talks at about 120-150 words a minute which takes up a tiny fraction of our mental bandwidth powered by some 86 billion brain cells.

So our mind wonders and we think about other things as we engage in conversation. We check out from time to time to think about other things like: “do we have milk?” , “Where did I put my phone?”, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Sometimes we take these side trips for too long only to snap back as the speaker says something like “stock tip”, “hemorrhoids” or “books”. “Having missed parts of the narrative we unconsciously, and often incorrectly, fill in the gaps”. This degrades the quality of the conversation.

Things are speeding up!

“Research suggests that, after people listen regularly to faster paced speech they have great difficulty maintaining attention when addressed by someone talking normally.”

This might explain why I easily get irritated when I get interrupted when cooking and listening to audiobooks at 1.7x speed. And I find it hard to concentrate on what the person has to say in such situations. My wife or my children come off as slow… 


“The most valuable lesson I’ve learned as a journalist is that everybody is interesting if you ask the right questions. If someone is dull or uninteresting, it’s on you!”


I booked an appointment at the ear clinic. This is where I will start my personal investigation into how I can be a better listener. It’s inpossible to be a great listener without proper hearing. Let’s start with the basics. (Update: here is how it all worked out (Video) )


I got a bunch of practical ideas from You’re Not Listening that will improve life if I practice them, but the book itself was not very memorable. Ask me about the book in two years and I will probably not remember that I’ve read it. It’s good, but not extraordinary!

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ out of 5

Further reading:

If you enjoyed You’re Not Listening then you might like the books:

Crucial Conversations – Gilette (Review coming soon!)
Non-Violent Communication – Marshall B. Rosenberg

Find more great reads on my book reviews page and the Great Books List
Video Reviews every week on YouTube

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