9 proven tips to become a better listener

9 proven tips to become a better listener - blog image

Good listening skills are incredibly important in the workplace, as well as in any other environment that calls for communication between two or more people. From sales professionals who listen intently to their customer’s needs, through to parents who listen carefully to their children’s problems, all the way up to leaders and managers whose success can depend on how well they listen as part of a team effort: we all need (to be) good listeners. But it isn’t always easy to be an effective listener. Fortunately, there are some basic steps that you can take —starting right now—to ensure that you’ll become one of the best listeners around.

1. Keep your attention focused on the person speaking.

Statistics reveal that a mere 10% of individuals retain spoken information after 72 hours. [1] Let that sink in. A staggering 90% of what we hear slips away, lost in the abyss of forgotten conversations. It’s a wake-up call that demands our attention.

When was the last time you felt truly heard? When someone’s undivided focus was on you, their eyes locked onto yours, and their mindfully present in the conversation? It’s a rare and precious gift in today’s distracted world. Yet, when we find ourselves drifting away, allowing our minds to wander to distant shores, we inadvertently send a message to the speaker: “Your words don’t matter. I’m not fully engaged.”

Think about the implications. The person standing before you, pouring their thoughts and emotions into each word, begins to question their own significance. Doubt creeps in. Are they being taken seriously? Is their message truly getting through? Our unintentional disengagement can create a chasm of misunderstanding and hinder the genuine connection we seek.

Through active listening, you create an environment that fosters understanding and respect. Imagine the impact—employees who feel truly listened to are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered, igniting their inner flame of motivation and performance. [2] It’s a catalyst that propels individuals and organisations toward unparalleled success.

2. Don’t interrupt.

Interruptions can be rude. It can make the speaker feel unheard and diminish the value of their message. If you need to ask the speaker to repeat themselves or clarify something, do so politely. Don’t interrupt them with too many questions that they can’t get their points across, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for more details as needed.

Ask questions about what’s being said if it’s unclear or if it’s confusing to you—it is possible that the speaker has omitted crucial information in their explanation, or that they could use a better way of explaining something in order for it to make sense in your head!

If multiple people are speaking, politely wait your turn before asking questions. This will help keep things clear when several people are talking at once.

By refraining from interruptions and politely asking for clarification, you demonstrate respect for the speaker’s perspective while ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

3. Don’t try to finish the other person’s sentences.

It can be tempting to try to finish the other person’s sentences, especially if you’re excited about the topic or have a strong opinion on it. However, it is generally considered poor listening etiquette and can come across as disrespectful or dismissive of the speaker’s thoughts and ideas. When you try to finish someone else’s sentences, you risk not fully understanding their message and potentially missing important information. Additionally, it can make the speaker feel like their thoughts and ideas are not valued or being heard. Instead, it’s best to allow the speaker to fully express themselves and then ask clarifying questions or provide feedback after they have finished speaking. Allowing individuals to articulate their thoughts fully not only ensures better comprehension but also cultivates an atmosphere where everyone’s voice is valued and respected.

4. Probe for deeper understanding 

Listen for the meaning behind what is said and ask questions to clarify or to get the other person to open up more. The best way to ask questions is to try to clarify what the speaker is saying. This can help them think, explain, elaborate and give examples of their ideas. For example:

“I’m not sure I understand. Could you please explain that?”

“Tell me more.”

“That’s interesting—tell me why.”

These simple questions spark a cascade of thoughts, explanations, and vivid examples from the speaker that enrich the dialogue and forge authentic connections.

5. Embrace differences and challenge assumptions with openness

Be prepared to listen to the other person’s opinion, even if it’s different from yours and you don’t agree with it in the moment. If you can do this, there’s a good chance that you’ll keep an open mind throughout your conversation as well as afterwards when thinking about what was said in comparison with your own opinions and beliefs on the subject matter at hand. By valuing contrasting ideas, you invite intellectual growth and preserve the intrigue of life’s ever-evolving tapestry.

6. Offer suggestions and feedback

 Effective listening goes beyond passive silence. It involves offering valuable suggestions and feedback that align with the speaker’s goals. However, it’s essential to tread carefully and avoid prematurely leaping into solutions. Instead, focus on stimulating their minds and guiding them toward discovering their own answers.

Remember, not every conversation calls for feedback or suggestions. Understanding the type of support the speaker seeks is crucial. Sometimes, all they need is a compassionate sounding board—a safe space to express their thoughts without judgment.

Approach this art with finesse, knowing that it’s the skill of providing feedback, rather than the feedback itself, that truly matters. By honing this skill, you become a catalyst for growth and development, empowering others to find their own solutions and reach new heights.

7. Boost the person’s confidence and self-esteem 

Being a good listener is about more than just hearing what the person has to say. It’s also about making them feel heard and understood, which can have a huge effect on their confidence and self-esteem.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you can support someone through their troubles, think of ways you can help them feel more at ease with themselves. Sometimes this may mean taking time out before diving into the conversation; other times it might be as simple as keeping your tone positive and encouraging. The important thing here is that you create an environment where the person feels supported and validated by you.

8. Avoid making judgments

We all make judgments. It’s a natural response to hearing something, whether it be a statement or a question. And while judgment can be useful in many cases, it can also lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings if we don’t think about the meaning behind the words before responding.

For example: If someone says “I hate my job,” there are several possible meanings that could have prompted this person to say that. First, maybe they hate their boss; or maybe they hate their co-workers, or maybe they’re just bored with their work overall and need something more challenging! But if you jump in and tell them how wrong they are for saying such things when all you heard was “I hate my job,” then chances are that you’ll never know what was really going through this person’s head when he/she spoke those words aloud.

9. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. 

There are multiple ways to listen. You can listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. You can also listen with your body. Or you can listen with your mind and soul. Be emotionally intelligent and look out the non-verbal skills. Observe the subtle body language shifts and signals, posture, gestures, and facial expressions.

If you’re someone who’s always been told that you’re a good listener, you can seize the opportunity to refine your skills through our Mentoring Skills & Practice Course. Good listeners are in high demand, and their importance to the success of many individuals, leaders, organisations and relationships cannot be underestimated.  Learning to be a good listener is not as daunting as it may seem. By focusing on the person speaking, asking questions that clarify what they are saying, and making it a two-way conversation instead of a lecture, you can become a better listener in no time.

Sign up today for our Mentoring Skills & Practice (MSP) Course to enhance and improve your listening skills.