Ten Ways To Become a Better Listener

“It takes two to speak the truth. One to speak and another to listen.” Henry Thoreau

Some time ago a workshop participant said to me, “You probably don’t recall the speech you gave fifteen years ago in my former company, but you challenged us to outline our values and define our purpose. Your comments got me thinking in a way that changed my life.”

Those words made my day. Imagine, I said something fifteen years ago that made a difference. Someone had listened to me and his life was better off because he had listened. He felt great — and I felt great.

And that’s what happens when good listening takes place in a relationship. Listening communicates importance and respect. It says, “You are so important that you get all of me. No distractions. Just me and my attention.”

Unfortunately, poor listening pervades so many of our relationships. In terms of work relationships, one study asked several thousand workers to identify the most serious faults observed in executives. The most frequently cited response, mentioned by 68% of the respondents, was the failure of the boss to listen or see the other person’s point of view.

The same is true in personal relationships. If you observe a couple while dating, you will be struck by their excellent listening skills and apparent caring. The same couple, perhaps five years after marriage, often exhibits little in the way of good listening behaviors. One partner might be reading the newspaper or watching television while the other is speaking.

One of the reasons for poor listening is our negative attitude toward listening. We tend to see listening as weak and submissive whereas talking, we think, is power. Actually, true power lies in listening. When you really listen to someone, he feels better about you. And when it’s your turn to speak, he will be much more attentive to you and your message.

So how do you become a better listener? I gave you three tips last week. Let me give you a few more tips this week.

=> 4. Remove The Physical Barriers.

Physical barriers create distance and discomfort. A desk communicates a superior-inferior message. One researcher found that only 11% of patients are at ease when the doctor sits behind a desk, but 55% of the patients are at ease when the desk is removed.

=> 5. Lean Forward.

The more you put yourself into a listening position, the more you will listen. And your posture indicates your degree of involvement in the conversation. Leaning forward says, “I am ready to listen. Go ahead.”

=> 6. Look At The Speaker.

If you doubt the importance of eye contact, just think of someone that doesn’t look at you when you’re speaking. Think of how you feel when that happens. You’ll quickly learn how important eye contact is. It’s critical!

=> 7. Relax.

Tapping your fingers or jiggling a foot is fine if you’re listening to music — but not to people. It’s distracting as well as damaging. It damages the other person’s self-esteem, because it seems to say you’d rather be somewhere else than listen to him or her. And if that other person is your mate, employer, or customer, it damages your relationship with that person.

=> 8. Look For Comments Of Value.

This is an excellent way to keep yourself interested in what another person is saying. Keep asking yourself, “What is this person saying that I can use?”

=> 9. Ask Questions.

Sincere, effectively worded questions encourage a speaker to share more, and that, in turn, allows you to learn more. You also stay much more alert as a listener when you’re asking questions.

And questioning is one way to make sure the other person is saying it clearly and you’re understanding it correctly. Such was the case with nine-year-old Danny and his Dad.

Danny came bursting out of Sunday school like a wild stallion. His eyes were darting in every direction as he tried to locate either his Mom or Dad. Finally, after a quick search, he grabbed his Daddy by the leg and yelled, “Man, that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was great!” His father looked down, smiled, and asked the boy to tell him about it.

“Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian army was gettin’ closer and closer. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. While that was happening, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over. They made it!”

By now old Dad was shocked. “Is that the way they taught you the story?”

“Well, no, not exactly,” Danny admitted, “but if I told it to you the way they told it to us, you’d NEVER believe it, Dad.”

=> 10. Withhold Your Judgment.

Before you get all hot and bothered by something somebody is saying, make sure you understand his point. Refrain from arguing, criticizing, or defending. Listen with an open mind, and withhold your evaluation until your comprehension is complete.

=> 11. Make Mental Reviews.

This simple skill will double your listening efficiency. Periodically review what the speaker is saying and has said. In a few seconds, you can mentally review what a speaker has said in the last several minutes, and by doing so, you stay tuned into the topic as well as increase your retention.

=> 12. Take Notes when Appropriate.

Note taking will decrease your day dreaming and increase your retention. In fact, Dr. Manny Steil, the world’s foremost authority on listening, says you’ll get 20% more from a meeting if you take notes. And you’ll get 35% more if you put your notes into a report — saying what you learned and how you’ll use what you learned. Check out Steil and Bommelje’s new book, “Listening Leaders: The 10 Golden Rules to Listen, Lead, and Succeed,” at www.listeningleaders.com

=> 13. Demonstrate Empathy.

The proof of good listening lies in the way you respond to the speaker. At a minimum, let the speaker know that you understand the obvious meaning of his words. And if you’re really good, you’ll also catch the unspoken feelings beneath the speaker’s words. You’ll catch the feelings subtly revealed by the other person’s body language.

In short, few things in this world do as much good as listening. Listening creates understanding, builds trust, increases cooperation, solves problems, and earns respect. So listen! Take the advice of the following poem — written by Anonymous — for all of us.


When I ask you to listen to me, and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me, and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me — strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I asked was that you listen — not talk or do — just hear me.

Advice is cheap. A quarter will get you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper.

I can do for myself. I’m not helpless — discouraged and faltering, maybe — but not helpless.

When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness.

But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you, and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational fear.

And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.

Irrational fears make sense when we understand what’s behind them.

Perhaps that’s why prayer works for so many people. God actually listens.

And if you’re willing to listen, God actually talks.

So please listen and just hear me.

And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn, and then I’ll listen to you.

Action:  List all the listening tips in today’s newsletter on a piece of paper. Then rank order them from 1 to 10, 1 being the tip or skill you are “best at” and 10 the one your are “worst at.”

For the next 3 weeks, focus on the item that you are “worst at.” Make yourself practice that particular skill at least once a day every day for the next 3 weeks. You will then find yourself using that skill almost automatically and almost effortlessly.