How much do we actually listen?


The guest writer this week is Mr Sam Kirwan, Assistant Head of Key Stage 4. Thanks for sharing it Sam!

When I was thinking about what I should say at Morning Prayer today, I was really struggling. Mainly because I’m not a great listener myself so how was I expecting to come in and talk to people about the theme of the week if I wasn’t practising it myself?

Some of you in this room, especially those who taught me, will back me up when I say I sometimes don’t listen properly. But if I’m honest, I don’t think I’m alone. I thought, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. So I did some research and found some interesting facts.

We listen at a rate of 125-250 words per minute, however we think at a rate of 1000-3000 words a minute. How am I expected to listen properly if my mind is thinking 10 times faster than you’re talking to me?

Further research showed that 55% of the meaning in our words, derives from facial expression, 38% is in how the words are said and only 7% is in the actual words spoken. Spoken words only account for 30 -35% of the meaning. The rest is transmitted through nonverbal communication that only can be detected through visual and auditory listening, hence why emails and phone messages can be so easily misconstrued. With so much going into the meaning of a single word, it’s unlikely that we are going to consistently be able to pluck the true meaning out of what someone is saying.

Part of the reason I felt I wasn’t a great listener was because of my inability to remember what someone had said to me literally minutes before hand. My mum always used to say to me… “Did you even listen to what I said?” My reply was normally some extremely smart, funny and well delivered response, well to me it was, which would normally lead to trouble and would give me the pleasure of my bedroom at a slightly earlier time than I would normally expect.

My research, which I have since shared with my mother, shows that even as an advanced, gifted and extremely well educated boy of 15, I should never have been expected to remember everything I was told. Words are processed by our short term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information at a time. Images however go into our long term memory where they are indelibly etched. It’s far easier to show a circle than to describe one. How are we supposed to remember things we are told if it is not backed up with some information or mental images to store long term.

I feel we are all sometimes guilty of jumping the gun and reverting conversations back to ourselves. When we are listening to someone, are we truly listening or are we already thinking of our response, waiting for them to finish before we can slip our own two pennies worth into the conversation. I have certainly found myself having to really try to put my own emotions and thoughts aside, before I can just sit and listen.

I want to share a poem with you which I found whilst searching the internet for something to say today. It pulls together everything I have been saying, just slightly more poetically.

When I ask you to listen to me And you start giving me advice, You have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me ‘why’ I shouldn’t feel that way, You are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me
And you feel you have to do something to solve my problems,
You have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I ask is that you listen; Not talk, nor do – just hear me.

And I can do for myself – I’m not helpless
Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.

When you do something for me, that I can and need to do for myself,
You contribute to my fear and weakness.

But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, No matter how irrational
Then I quit trying to convince you
And can get about the business of understanding

What’s behind this irrational feeling.

When that’s clear,
The answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.

Irrational feelings make sense when we Understand what’s behind them.

Perhaps that’s why prayer works sometimes for some people;
because God is mute, and doesn’t give
advice to try to ‘fix’ things,

He/She just listens, and lets you work it out for yourself.

So please listen, and just hear me, and if you want to talk,
Wait a minute for your turn,
And I’ll listen to you.

We’ll now end with a short prayer,


Let us open our ears so we can hear the true meaning of words,

Let us not be concerned with our own troubles but listen to the troubles of others,

Allow us to listen for our own call so we too can let you know that we are listening,

We ask all this through you, Christ our Lord,



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