8 Ways to become a Better Listener

Written by Steve Piacente

May 5, 2016

The list of people who have weighed in on how to be a good listener stretches from Diogenes to Eric Clapton.

The great guitarist said that “part of my gift … is that I love listening.” Diogenes noted that we were given “two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”

But it was Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) who nailed it, at least so far as modern communication goes. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand,” Covey said. “They listen with the intent to reply.”

Think of recent conversations, staff meetings, or any presidential debate. Not much listening going on, right? Truly good listeners are rare, which is striking since there is little we all want more than to be heard.

There are several ways to become known as a better listener. The first point to remember is that listening is not a passive activity. As with all communication, your body is sending constant signals, so:

1. Show that you’re present and engaged by leaning in toward the speaker and paying attention. No screens, no multi-tasking. 

 2. Make typical, comfortable eye contact. Don’t stare like a stalker.

 3. Nod a bit to convey understanding, and smile when the time is right. 

 4. Read the other person’s body language, expressions and vocal tone.

What you say and how you say it are also the mark of a good listener.

5. Try to stay open-minded and withhold judgment. This is what Covey meant about listening “with the intent to reply.” Too often we jump in and begin rebutting as soon as the other person stops for a breath. 

6. Show empathy and understanding. Try paraphrasing or summarizing what you’ve heard to show the speaker you’ve been listening.

7. Ask some questions. Not yes or no questions, but the open-ended variety that engender more discussion.

8. Watch your tone and tenor. A question like: “How did you come up with this idea?” comes off quite differently depending on whether it’s delivered in a neutral or sarcastic voice.

You may be thinking, great, when is it my turn? Your turn is now. Present your point of view in a logical, thoughtful and respectful manner. If you’ve been listening – actively listening – you should already be in a better strategic position.