How to be a better listener: Attention, context, urgency

Colonel Chris Hadfield talks to us about the formalities that astronauts have to use, and how it can help us here on earth.

Chris Hadfield: I’m certain my wife would not agree that I have good listening skills. It’s human nature: you get preoccupied with your own thoughts, and when I’m busy thinking about something I don’t hear very well, because my brain is sort of already engaged and I don’t necessarily turn noise into a cogent-enough thought that it gets in and I actually acknowledge what somebody is saying—so I’m just as guilty as anyone of not being a good listener.

I think in order to overcome that you have to deliberately listen, and not just to the words, not just the text, but what was the reason behind the text? What do those words mean culturally? How did the person say them and why? Why did they say them now? What’s the sense of urgency? What is the actual message they’re trying to get across? And so, of course, the best way to verify all that is to engage in discussion. Repeat back what you think you heard.

A really clinical example is where Mission Control is calling up something important to the spaceship and we know that communication is lousy—there’s little tiny speakers and it’s radios and it’s clipped and it’s digitized, and so we can’t just count on everybody immediately understanding and having good listening skills.

So we have like, “Houston, station.” “Station, Houston, I’m listening.”

“Okay Houston what I wanted to talk to you about was—whatever—the carbon dioxide removal equipment, and there’s a problem with the CDRA today and I’m in the checklist on page 221 part B, let me know when you’re there.” “Okay. All right. I’m open to that page now. Go ahead.”

So think about how that communication is happening. You’ve gotten their attention, they’ve told you “okay you have my attention” and “now this is the thing I’m talking about are you on the same page as me?” “Yes. I am on the same page as you.” “Okay. Now that both of us are on the same page now let’s actually discuss why we’re trying to accomplish this thing. What are the details? What do we need to know? What do you know that I don’t know?” And then come to a mutual conclusion of “Okay this is what I’m going to do.” “Yep I agree that’s what you’re going to do.”

It’s so incredibly formalized: we’re talking with the ground, but it’s a microcosm of a regular conversation between any two people, we just maybe aren’t quite as rigorous about it. But I think you should keep that in mind, if you’re trying to be a good listener, picture how the ground listens to a spaceship and try and be that person. Truly give them your attention. Try and get on the same page. Question, have a conversation. Make sure you understand the intent. Repeat it back. And then get your actions verified after you do them. And if you can manage to do all those things, even quickly, then I think you have the best chance of being a good communicator—and more importantly, a good listener.

  • How do you not just listen but be a good listener?
  • You need to focus on why someone is saying what they do.
  • The formalized communication of NASA is a microcosm of a regular conversation between any two people.

Colonel Chris Hadfield knows that excellent communication is of utmost importance when you're an astronaut floating in space, and half of good communication is good listening.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

10 science photos that made history and changed minds

These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.

Surprising Science
  • Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
  • Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less