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How to Become a Better Listener: 10 Simple Tips

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.”
Epictetus

One social habit that I used to be quite bad at was to truly listen when other people spoke. I sometimes zoned out. I got distracted or my attention started to wander before they were done talking.

Or I just waited for my turn to talk again (while thinking about what I should say next).

Not very helpful. So things had to change.

This week I’d like to share 10 simple tips that helped me – and still help me – to become a better listener.

I hope they will help you and your relationships too.

1. Keep in mind: Listening is win/win.

Many may not listen that well because they think they don’t get much out of it personally.

But the better you listen, the better they will listen to you.  And the better and deeper the relationship will be. If you focus on understanding him or her and on giving value based on that then you’ll get the same thing back.

This reminder has been a powerful motivator for me to become a better listener.

2. Tell yourself that you’ll tell someone else about this conversation later on.

One of the best ways to remember something better is to know that you are going to tell what you learned to someone else.

Then you’ll be more alert, naturally start asking more questions to understand and what is said – in my experience – simply seems to stick better.

Plus, you’ll stop focusing so much on what to say next and so the conversation tends to flow better.

3. Keep the eye-contact.

Looking everywhere except at the person talking can make it seem like you are not listening. And then the conversation suffers.

So keep the eye-contact. I found it easier to start doing this more often when I:

  • Took it step-by-small-step and improved my eye-contact time in conversations over the span of a few months.
  • Focused my gaze at just one of the other person’s eyes at time.

4. Keep that smart phone away.

Browsing the internet on your phone or your computer while trying to listen usually leads missing some part of the conversation and to the person talking feeling like he or she is not listened to.

So put that phone down while listening if you don’t need it to check something or write something down as a part of the conversation.

5. Summarize what was said.

I have found that taking a few seconds to summarize what someone just said – like a longer segment about what happened at work or in a relationship – makes it a lot easier to make sure I’ve understood what happened.

As I say that summary out loud the other person can adjust or correct my understanding and so I can add my perspective, thoughts or questions in a better way based on that rather than my assumptions about what happened and of how the other person’s experienced this situation.

Or I can take some kind of action based on what they actually meant and not what I thought they meant (for example in a work setting where a misunderstanding could lead to frustration and time lost if you misunderstand).

6. Ask instead of trying to mind-read.

Reading someone’s mind is quite difficult. Most of the time impossible. Still, so many of us have tried to do it and started conversations based on that too many times.

So when you feel an impulse to assume and mind-read stop that and start being curious and ask open-ended questions. Going for this kind of question instead of the ones where the other person can just answer a yes or a no will help him/her to open up and to start explaining and sharing what is going on.

7. Get some fresh air and/or exercise.

Few things make it so hard to follow along in a conversation as a tired and foggy head.

Two things that can keep that energy and mental clarity up are to open a window or to take a walk outside to get both some exercise and some fresh air.

Exercising regularly a bit more intensely a few times a week also makes it easier to fully be there when you want to and need to listen.

8. When you listen, just listen.

Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in with solutions (this one can be a hard one in my experience).

Just be present in the moment and listen fully to what the other person has to say and let him or her speak until the entire message is said.

Sometimes that is also all that’s needed. For someone to truly listen as we vent for a few minutes and figure things out for ourselves.

9. Be honest about your current limitations.

If you’re in a rush or feel very tired or stressed out let the other person know. If you have listened for long while and your mind has hit its limit and starts to wander and you need a break and maybe something to eat say that too.

It is better for the both of you to be honest and to continue the conversation later on rather than trying to fake undivided attention or to try to keep the listening up when you honestly just can’t.

10. Share what you have done in a similar situation.

When asked for advice while listening or when it seems appropriate – not when the other person just needs to vent and get things out – share what you have done in the same situation or a similar one and what worked well for you.

That gives a lot more weight to your input than just random advice or opinions about what you think could work.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Memoona Qureshi

    Very helpful. Thanks for making the effort to teach us how to be better listeners. God bless you.

  • I also find Smartphones extremely annoying. This reminds me of an incident. I was talking to one of my friends. We met after a long time. But being the social butterfly she is, she could not put down her phone. She was constantly messaging or chatting. I got so irritated that, I picked up my phone, and called her. She was taken off guard and said, why are you calling me? I said, it seems that that is the only way we can talk. Personal 1-1 is not your thing and I walked off. :p

  • I think that the point is also not to get overexcited over the topic, and let your interlocutor sometimes speak ;)

  • Very solid advice, Henrik, thank you! Especially the parts about being honest about your limitations, summarizing what you heard and sharing what you have done in a similar situation brought many a-has to me already.

    Also, I remember Eben Pagan saying that the 2 most important obstacles to learning are 2 that we very quickly jump to: First is “I know this” and second is “I disagree.”

  • PN

    If you want to be a better listener, I highly recommend picking up a book on basic counselling skills. I did an intro to counselling skills course back when I was in university and it was so incredibly helpful. Counselling skills are basically active listening skills – lots of useful concepts like SOLER, frame of reference, transference, etc. that’ll really help you become a wonderfully engaging listener.

  • I think its very important to listen other people because they might have a depression and want some help.

  • Audrey Johnson

    I too have been guilty of this as well as a victim of it. We have been so trained to multi-task throughout our days that sometimes it is difficult to focus on just one thing. These are great ideas and I can’t wait to try them. Thanks for sharing.

  • Diana Biegner

    Thank you also for reminding me of how primal satisfying it is and how therapeutic it can be to walk and talk. Not so much about eye contact but walking next to someone is a good way to listen.

  • Great read! Properly listening and participating in a conversation isn’t something you can exactly take a class for, but having a guideline can help immensely. Thanks!

  • We all need to listen more! Beautiful post. I will take this advice onboard. Thank you :)

  • Anonymous

    this is dead cool

  • Hey Henrik,

    This is really a fantastic article. I have never been a good listener but wanted to be a one. So, this is the one I was looking for.

    Putting the phone down is my favorite point. We all make this same mistake. With my experience, I have already lost some cool people because of not listening to them and using the smartphone too much.

    Thanks again for sharing these helpful tips with us.

  • It is a good article to teach anyone how to be a good listener. One of the best way to become a good listener is think the story you can tell to others later. thanks for the informative post.

  • Listening is very much useful to become more effective person. And it is also sign of respect and importance.
    This is really good article.

  • So much value in this post. I’m definitely going to try some of these things. With so much clutter and so many voices out in the world, I feel like many of us are just trying to be heard. So instead of listening to what others have to say, we are simply doing our due diligence until it is our turn to speak. Perhaps that’s why many people have a hard time connecting with others. They don’t really know how to listen, myself included. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced!