How to be a Good Listener

Being a good listener is a rare skill that takes practice and effort and an authentic desire to understand the other person’s point of view. When this understanding is achieved, the listener obtains accurate data, enabling them to more readily influence, negotiate, motivate and resolve conflict and adding significant value to both personal and professional relationships.  Ineffective listeners tend to make assumptions which create misunderstandings and prevent the parties from building rapport.

We all have different personal styles and our own unique perspective on life. When we communicate, our personal style can be a barrier to being a good listener. For example, a person who likes to talk and be the centre of attention may not be in the habit of listening to others. Instinctively, we filter information that we receive and compare it to our paradigm of the world, retaining data that supports our point of view and ignoring anything that does not. If we don’t make a conscious effort to listen, it’s easy to talk at cross purposes and fail to connect with the other person.

When a person feels that they have really been heard and that the listener understands their unique perspective, issues and challenges, a foundation of trust is created that enables the speaker to open up and share all the relevant information.  In this way, the two parties get to the heart of the issue, enabling them to resolve problems or conflict. Without trust, the speaker is likely to be defensive and guarded and only share information selectively.

A good listener listens with the intention of understanding and uses the techniques outlined below to do this:


Be Calm

If you’re tired and stressed, it’s a challenge to focus your attention on what someone else is saying and to absorb all the relevant information. A useful strategy is to take 5 minutes to clear your mind before attending a meeting or interview or engaging in an important conversation. (Breathing or relaxation techniques can be very helpful).

Be Fully Present

This requires the listener to give their full attention to the speaker and be genuinely interested in what he/she has to say. Maintaining eye contact shows the speaker that they have your attention. If you let your mind wander or only listen selectively, you’re likely to appear disinterested and miss important details.

Be Respectful

Be patient and courteous and let the speaker finish what they want to say without interrupting. Only give advice when someone specifically asks for it. If you assume you know what the other person’s going to say and finish their sentences for them, or act like you know better and contradict, interrupt and tell the speaker what you think they should do, you will appear very disrespectful.  The Greek Philosopher, Epictetus said: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” To state the obvious, effective listeners listen more than they talk. It’s also important to be conscious of your tone of voice when speaking and your non-verbal communication. Disrespect can be communicated through a sarcastic or disparaging tone of voice, facial expressions or posture.

Be Curious

If you’re not sure that you fully understand what’s been said, ask for more information, using courteous and information-seeking questioning. A challenging or confrontational questioning style makes it obvious you disagree with the speaker and creates a barrier to effective communication.  

Listen with Empathy

In his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Steven Covey advises us to “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”  Effective listeners genuinely try to see the world from the other person’s point of view to understand what their issues and concerns are, listening with an open mind and suspending judgement, even if the views expressed are quite different from their own.