Becoming a better listener

A team sits at a table with all different expressions

Being a great listener is a powerful skill that has many benefits. It helps you build trust. When people feel heard, they will then listen to what you have to say. When people feel heard, they appreciate you. And if you are a leader, when people feel heard, they will be more likely to follow you.

Being a great listener under pressure enables you to ask the questions that need to be asked. You will be seen as composed, clever and capable. You will be more effective in the job.

But being a great listener is not easy.  Because our brains are so effective, we jump ahead. We project our opinions; we tell ourselves why the other person is wrong; we interrupt. Our self-talk gets in the way of listening well and communication suffers.

Becoming a better listener provides useful tips for staying in the moment and modelling your “A” game as a communicator.

The following actions can help you become a better listener:

  • Think about what you do now
  • Listen to yourself
  • Bring a curious and respectful mindset
  • Listen to the content
  • Listen for meaning
  • Listen for and acknowledge, feelings
  • Breathe
  • Value and leverage silence

How can I use this in my work? How can I make this work? How can I apply it? How can I use this in the real world?

  • Think about what you do now – get feedback from people you know well on how good a listener you are. Ask people who you trust and interact with regularly to rate you on a 1-5 scale (where 1 is never, 2 is rarely, 3 is sometimes, 4 is often and 5 is always) in relation to the following questions:

During our conversations, do I:

  1. Give you plenty of time to talk and reflect?
  2. Make you feel like I am totally focused on what you are saying?
  3. Bring a genuinely curious mindset?
  4. Maintain eye contact?
  5. Ask open questions that encourage you to share your views?
  6. Listen without interrupting?
  7. Create an atmosphere of trust and connection through listening?
  8. Demonstrate I have understood what has been said by summarising and paraphrasing?
  • Listen to yourself – “only when you are fully aware of your own thoughts can you begin to manage them and focus on the other person.” – Difficult Conversations. Being conscious of what you are thinking and feeling can help you manage the conversation.
  • Bring a curious and respectful mindset – have a genuine interest in understanding the other persons perspective. Be curious. Ask open questions. (See The Power of Curiosity). People respond positively when they think you are genuinely interested in understanding the situation.
  • Listen to the content – One of the simplest ways to keep your focus during a conversation is to listen to what the other person is saying and summarise it back to them. For example, you can use phrases such as, ‘so my understanding of what you’re saying is…’ or ‘What I’m hearing you say is…’. This helps manage your desire to interrupt before the other person finishes speaking.
  • Listen for meaning – Besides listening to words, you need to be listening more broadly with all your senses. Look for hidden meaning. Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice and body language, will often provide you with more information about what someone is saying than the words themselves.
  • Listen for and acknowledge, feelings – Feelings crave acknowledgment. Listen for the emotions behind the words. Saying things like, ‘I’m getting a sense you’re unhappy with my response’ or ‘It sounds like you’re frustrated with the situation’ can often shift the conversation. When you acknowledge the other person’s feelings, they perceive you care about them. And even if you misinterpret their emotional state, they’ll still appreciate your effort to understand how they are feeling.
  • Breathe – Taking a slow, deep breath helps you keep your composure and focus, which is critical when you’re trying to listen. When in a conversation, make it a practice to take slow deep breaths periodically to nourish your brain and stay in the moment.
  • Value and leverage silence – Skilled listeners leverage pauses and silence in conversations. They don’t immediately rush to share their own thoughts or ask a question, but instead hold back and give the other person the chance to reflect and add to what they have already said. Being comfortable with silence is invaluable. It gives people a chance to reflect and refine what they want to say.

Checklist of up to three actions/steps to put this skill into practice

  1. Ask friends/colleagues to give you feedback on how you currently listen (see the questions above).
  2. During conversations, practice summarising and paraphrasing to increase your understanding and reduce your desire to interrupt.
  3. During conversations, practice holding back when the other person goes silent – wait for the other person to expand or continue.

Balanced Curve designs and delivers memorable, results-driven programs that improve individual and organisational performance. Contact us to discuss your requirements.

Mark Rosenberg