Have you ever really wanted to express something and someone won’t listen? Or you seem to have their attention but it becomes clear at some point you don’t.You’re pouring your heart out, or trying to deal with a problem between the two of you, or just wanting some contact and sharing and they won’t listen.

I’ll let you into a secret.

I’m sometimes that other person. I don’t always listen.

Why You Want Me To Listen

This might sound arrogant, but why should I listen to you? After all there are plenty of other things I could choose to listen to, not to mention all the other things I could do apart from listening. Even enjoying the silence is a better option than listening to most of what people express.

Listening requires time, attention, concentration and effort and even more so if what you’re saying is about me. When you want me to listen you’re asking a lot, and even if it’s pleasurable for me, I don’t want to be taken for granted.

There are three things I’d like to know before I agree to listen:

1.   the needs you aim to meet by talking

2.   the needs of yours my listening will fulfil

3.   the signs you want from me to show I’m listening.

If you can tell me these clearly  it’s much more inviting and enjoyable for me to give you the gift of my attention. I don’t mean I want to hear these things all the time as that would be just odd and stifling spontaneity. No, I want to hear them when my listening is especially important to you. Something like this:

Ian. I’m burning to talk about something that just happened and get clarity for myself. I could really do with some empathy. Would you stop what you’re doing and look at me. If I seem to get stuck, then hearing some guesses from you about my needs would support me. Are you ok to do this now?’

That might sound a mouthful. It takes about 15 seconds to say all that which I consider a decent investment if my listening is really important to you. Hearing this brings my attention to you and how I’m contributing to your life.

The other option is just to start with the story which to my mind is something like a demand.

Why I Might Not Listen

Well, there’s a whole range of reasons I might not listen.

Assuming I can actually hear you (the power of concentration is such that I can actually filter out your voice unintentionally), I’m not going to give you the gift of my listening when there are some needs I’m looking after by withholding it.

We’re all different of course, but here are some common reasons I choose not to listen:

Concentrated on something else

Basically this is not the best time for me as my attention is over here and not with you. I would like some negotiation with you about when I will listen. It’s not that I’m unwilling to listen, just some other needs are up for me right now. When I hear your reasons, and you hear my reasons then we can find a time that’s going to work. It could be right now or it could be later.


If I’m involved in whatever it is you want me to listen to, then I may be scared about how I’ll react to what I’m going to hear. To move past this I need some reassurance we can both handle whatever comes up, and I’ll partly get that through some empathy for my fear.


Especially if this is a recurring theme you want to talk about, I may have run out of ideas and ways to help. I want to contribute to the situation but I’m not trusting talking about it, and me listening to you again, is going to take us anywhere. Again, empathy around my feelings of helplessness may well unlock my willingness to listen.

My stuff

I just can’t listen because there’s something unresolved between us getting in the way of me giving you attention. I’m the one who wants to be listened to before I have anything to give back to you. And once more, some empathy might do the trick.

How do you handle situations when someone won’t listen?