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Active Listening With Cats

We’ve all been there, right? Someone is venting about work stress or one of their cat’s health issues, and our minds wander to ‘Did I get enough kibble?’ But what if we truly listened and focused on what they’re saying?

Let’s find out as Toulouse and Jack guide us through a cat chat and discover how we can all benefit from something called active listening.

What is Attentive Listening?

Active or Attentive listening (both names can be used) is not just stopping for a chat to a friend, it goes deeper and it takes two (or more) people, or as we shall see below, two cats.

It is not just about hearing words, ready to jump in with a comment, as we often do. It’s about giving someone your undivided attention, making eye contact and putting away your smartphone so you can focus.

Portrait mode snapshot of ginger cat
Eye Contact and Attentive Listening

Active listening is more than ‘hearing’ someone’s words. It means fully attuning to the feelings and views of the speaker, demonstrating unbiased acceptance and validation of their experience (Nelson-Jones, 2014). 

Simple Psychology

The Power of Listening

Let’s eavesdrop on a chat between Jack, our senior ginger and Toulouse the rambunctious young tabby. They are friends and I sometimes find them close together for bedtime naps. This is a great active listening example!

  • The Setting: Jack is settled by the window watching a little bird TV. There is fresh seed in the feeder so plenty of feathered visitors to the garden.

Toulouse: (jumps up on the window ledge) Jack. JACK! Did you see Thomas! He just chased down a rat, he had it cornered, it got away, he got it again. It was brilliant to watch!

Jack: (Twitches an ear but remains focused on the bird feeder)

Toulouse: (Sighs dramatically) Honestly Jack, are you ignoring me? This was pure drama and excitement, you should have seen Thomas’s moves! Let me….

Jack: (Finally turns with a patient sigh) Now just a moment young Toulouse. Don’t you lecture me about listening. Who spent half an hour chasing a catnip toy yesterday while I was sharing some critical laser pointer skills I knew you would really like?

Toulouse: (Looks defensive) Catnip Jackl! You want undivided attention when I had a catnip toy?

Jack: (Rolls his eyes) Exactly my point Toulouse! Really listening attentively isn’t just about swivelling your ears every now and again. It’s about understanding the intent behind the words, you see?

Toulouse: (Pauses to think) Hmmmm OK, I think you may have a point there Jack. So, are you saying you want to hear about Thomas’s dramatic rat chase?

Jack: (Turns from the window with an amused look). Perhaps young cat. Now, tell me how did this dramatic rat chase play out?

Toulouse launches into an excited account of the dramatic twists and turns of the chase and capture. Jack listens intently, occasionally offering a comment or asking a question. The conversation continues, a purrfect example of attentive listening (cat style).

Friends Listen Attentively

More Than Just Hearing

So the chat by Toulouse and Jack shows us that active listening isn’t just ‘listening’ with half a cat’s ear. It’s about paying closer attention to what may be happening in a conversation. Toulouse setting aside his catnip mouse to listen properly to Jack would have given him a chance to learn, and to engage fully with his friend’s wise words.

Active Listening Techniques

How to improve active listening skills? Here are some easy to remember tips.

Body Language

As Jack does to Toulouse in their conversation, give the person you are talking to your full attention. Make eye contact with your speaker and avoid fidgeting. Put your ‘phone away and think ‘mirror – not statue’ to show you are fully engaged in the conversation. Yes, this can be hard, Toulouse will confirm that it’s not just a human failing.

A verbal cue is a spoken signal that tells someone what to do next. Just like in a conversation, it’s your turn to speak when you hear your cue!

Verbal Cues

Simply saying short phrases like ‘uh-huh’ or ‘go on’ lets your talker know that you are following the conversation and encouraging them to keep talking. Had we stayed while Jack and Toulouse conversed we might have heard Jack ask ‘and then? or nod at important moments, engaged in Toulouse’s exciting story.

Ask Questions

This can help your conversationalist feel you are engaged and really listening. Ask what are called ‘open’ questions. These are ones that need more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to answer them. They show you are interested and want to understand, just like Jack does with Toulouse.

black and white portrait of a cat. Closeup.
Attention Brings Value to Your Chat

Barriers to Attentive Listening

Listening in an active way can be hard enough. (Toulouse found it very hard not to interrupt at the start of the conversation with Jack!) There are some human faults that might bring you up short when you chat so watch out for these too:

  • Holding judgements. Cats don’t have this issue but humans might. If you respond with criticism you can increase the other person’s defensiveness. and make it difficult for them to express their feelings.
  • Suggesting solutions. This can be really tempting as we want to help but you might discourage someone from coming up with their own solutions to a problem so try to listen carefully.
  • Interrupting. Don’t, until a gap in the conversation arises you can use. I am sure Toulouse was tempted to say ‘but….’ or ‘what if’ at some points in his chat with Jack but he tried hard to be respectful. If you do feel you have interrupted, you can say ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, go on’ letting the other person continue without feeling awkward.
  • Don’t derail the conversation by mentioning a similar event you encountered. This takes the focus off your speaker and can send a message that they are not as important as you, or your story. This is so common, try to keep still because this is not about you.
Portrait of a tuxedo cat napping in a bed attached to a window.
Relax and Listen

13 thoughts on “Active Listening With Cats”

  1. This is a really cool post…and it can apply to dogs, and people! I especially like the verbal cue to at least let the other party know we are indeed listening. Great article! Pinning to my Mews News board to share!

  2. Brilliant! I think a lot of folks are guilty of not actively listening. Putting phones, computers, and whatnot away and truly listening is a great suggestion. I know I’m guilty of trying to solve problems when that’s not what is needed. All I simply need to do is listen and fully be there listening. Such a great article, Marjorie! I know I’m going to try to do better actively listening. I hope others will as well.

  3. Great post and if we listened more before jumping to conclusions we would learn more and Jack and Toulouse explained it the best

  4. There’s a saying that we don’t listen to hear but listen to respond and I think that’s true. Listen and silent have the same letters for a reason. Great post that everyone should read

  5. There’s hearing and there’s listening, and I think most of us got the hearing part down but need a lot more practice in the actual listening department. Jack and Toulouse explained it very well.

  6. A really insightful post! Really listening does not come easy to many. A true conversational exchange can be rare.

  7. Excellent active listening tips! We actually get training on active listening where I work. It is super important, as illustrated so well by Toulouse and Jack. 🙂

  8. Such a fun post!!!! We do really try to listen too. Thanks for joining Angel Brian’s Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!


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