How to Eavesdrop

Three Methods:Listening Through Walls, Doors, and WindowsUsing TechnologyOverhearing Someone in a Shared Space

We eavesdrop for many reasons. Sometimes we eavesdrop to find out information, to entertain ourselves, or to develop our imagination or writing skills. Eavesdropping, in a sense, is an art form,[1] and collecting fragments of conversations not only teaches us about people but also about human communication and connection.

Method 1
Listening Through Walls, Doors, and Windows

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    Hover around closed doors. Maybe you want to know how mad your parents really are about your D in Chemistry, or what your son is saying to his friend on the phone, or what your roommate really thinks about you. Sneak quietly to the door and listen.
    • If someone walks by and sees you, don’t act suspicious. Instead of running off in a hurry, seem like you have a reason to be there, such as picking up something you just happened to drop outside of the door.
    • If one of the people you are eavesdropping on comes out of the door, you could pretend you were about to knock and say something like, “Oh, I was just coming to find you. I needed to ask you a question.” Then come up quickly with a question to ask!
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    Listen through the keyhole. You may be able to hear more if you crouch down and put your ear to the door. It would be a good idea to drop something very obvious on the floor (such as a pile of papers) so that if anyone comes by they will just think you are kneeling on the floor to pick up what you have dropped.
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    Use a thin glass. If you are trying to hear through a wall, you can use a thin drinking glass to amplify the sound.[2] Place the rim of the glass to the wall and position your ear on the other end.
    • It’s best to use this method in a place where you won’t be seen, such as your bedroom. You will have a harder time pretending not to be eavesdropping if someone sees you listening through a drinking glass!
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    Sit quietly in the next room. You can position yourself in a good location to eavesdrop after a conversation you want to hear has already begun. Just be quiet about it, and be sure to pretend to have a good reason to be there.
    • For instance, maybe your competition at work has a meeting with the boss, and the boss’s office is next to the supply closet. Pretend you desperately need some paperclips. In fact, you seem to be out of everything at the moment so you need to spend a while stocking up—long enough, at least, to eavesdrop just a tiny bit.
    • If you’re at home, your parents might be having a discussion in the kitchen that you want to overhear. Go into the living room (or whichever room is near the kitchen) and sit quietly, but have an excuse ready if they ask you what you are doing. Maybe you left something in the living room and you need to look under all the couch cushions… repeatedly.
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    Crack the window. You can catch a conversation going on outside your room by opening your window. Don’t be too obvious, though. Instead of opening the window all the way, just slowly open it an inch or two. Sit down with your ear near the window so that the people you are eavesdropping on don’t see you.
    • You could also listen to a conversation happening inside your house from the outside via an open window, but you’ll have to do some pre-planning. In this instance, you should crack the window prior to the conversation you want to overhear and position yourself outside. Crouch down by the window on the outside of the house so no one inside sees you.
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    Eliminate other sounds. Wherever you are trying to eavesdrop, it’s important to cancel out any noise other than the conversation you are trying to overhear.
    • In addition to turning off the T.V. and stereo or MP3 player, be sure to turn off overhead fans and any devices, such as a computer or printer, that make less obvious noises. Even small sounds can interfere with your attempt to overhear!

Method 2
Using Technology

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    Plant a recording device. You can use a small digital recorder if you have one, or a recording app on your phone. Be sure to place it in an inconspicuous place that is still in a close proximity to the people you want to record.
    • Be aware, however, that recording conversations in order to eavesdrop is illegal in some places and punishable by law.[3]
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    Purchase a spy tool. If eavesdropping is your favorite hobby, you might consider purchasing a tool that will allow you to overhear conversations easily. A small device such as the Next Room Eavesdropping Device allows you to amplify conversations through walls and listen through headphones.[4]
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    Pick up the other line. Very few people have a home telephone now, but if you do live in a house that hasn’t yet gone “cell-phone-only,” you can pick up another line and listen to the conversation. Make sure you don’t breath too hard or giggle, though!
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    Employ social media. Eavesdropping doesn’t always have to be done in person. You can of course check out conversations on facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out who is talking to who and what they are saying.

Method 3
Overhearing Someone in a Shared Space

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    Feign absorption. Maybe you are at home, school, or work and plan to eavesdrop on a family member, schoolmate, or coworker. Maybe you’re even in the same room (or the next cubicle). Your main goal should be to look extremely absorbed in whatever you are doing so that the person you want to eavesdrop on won’t be suspicious. They might even forget you are even there!
    • If you are at work, look intently at your computer screen while frantically typing. You might be typing gibberish, but the person in the next cubicle will just think you are concentrating on your work (and not his or her conversation).
    • At home or school, put on your headphones and grab a book or magazine. Look completely disinterested in what is going on in the room; be surprised that other people are even there. The look on your face, if approached or “interrupted” from your magazine and music, should say: “Wow, I didn’t even realize you were in here having this private conversation, and I sure didn’t overhear anything you said!”
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    Bring a prop. If you have a prop, people will be less likely to think you are paying attention to them. Grab a book, your phone, or your MP3 player. You should look like you are doing something other than listening in on people’s conversations, so pretend to read, scroll through your phone, or listen to music.
    • Be sure your prop is one that helps you blend in, not stand out! You don’t want people to notice you at all!
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    Find a good position. In shared, public spaces, the busier the place, the better. Sit down on a bench or in the middle of park where people are hanging out or walking by.
    • Alternately, walk around and listen closely for a good conversation. If you hear a snippet of a conversation that interests you, sit down close (but not to close) to the people you want to eavesdrop on. Pretend to be interested in your book, phone, or music.
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    Get out and about. If you enjoy eavesdropping as a leisure activity, taking public transport, eating out alone, browsing a store, and hanging out at a coffee shop will put you in a good position to overhear some interesting conversations.
    • Instead of driving yourself to work or around town for your weekend errands, take the bus or the subway. You may have better luck on weekends or evenings when people are headed out on the town, since people who commute to work are usually solo travelers and aren’t generally engaged in conversations.
    • When eating out alone, try to sit near a large party—the more boisterous, the better. If the hostess sits you at a table away from other groups, ask politely if you could have a different table—perhaps a high top near the restaurant’s bar, if a lot of people are hanging out there.
    • While shopping, don’t just make a bee-line for the items on your list. Instead, wander the aisles of the supermarket, convenience store, or neighborhood shop. Pick up items and look at them; walk slowly and listen for conversations on the aisles close to you.
    • Grab something to drink on the weekend at a coffee shop and stick around for a while. You could do this during the week, too, but weekends are better because people are out and about with friends (rather than scrambling to get work done on their lunch break during the week).


  • Eavesdropping can be fun, but remember that no one enjoys invasions of privacy.
  • Be aware that you might overhear something you didn’t want to know. Once you hear it, you can never un-hear it!

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Categories: Spying