Thursday, October 13, 2011

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Listener

Whether you are trying to run a business, manage a group of employees, or just be a good friend, really knowing what another person is telling you is key to being someone who is liked, respected, and trusted. Take these five steps to really get to know other people.

Step 1: Listen Aggressively
Make sure you are listening and really grasping what people are telling you. And I don’t just mean the words. Listen to their tone of voice and listen to what they are actually NOT saying.

For instance, if a cashier at the grocery store looks at you and snarls when she spits out the words, “Have a nice day,” you don’t honestly believe she wishes you well, do you? Obviously she is having a bad day or going through a difficult period in life. Or maybe you just irritated her. The sarcasm dripping from her lips is a clear indication that the words you heard were not truly what she was trying to say.

Also keep this in mind when responding to others (although that is a topic for another day).

Also…pay attention to what the person is NOT saying. For instance, is there some important point that is missing? Are there words that would normally fit into the conversation that you are having but are absent from this one? Is there anything they are avoiding telling you?

Listening is very different from hearing. Make sure you know (and practice) the difference.

Step 2: Observe Aggressively
Have you ever what one of the many police dramas on TV (can you miss them?!) or courtroom shows where it is obvious that something just doesn’t look right. Take a step back and look at the other person while they are talking to you. Do they look withdrawn? Do they look uncomfortable or nervous? Are they avoiding eye contact or fidgeting? Is their body facing toward the door like they are ready for a quick escape?

These are all signs that somewhere there is some missing truth in what they are telling you. They are avoiding the truth or covering up with a lie. Even a lie of omission is a lie and something is really going on here.

Did you know that I was told that FBI agents are told that during their first interrogation, they are to completely ignore what the person is saying and strictly observe. Pure observation is what tells them who to bring back for a second interview most of the time. That's serious business, people!

Step 3: Talk Less
Listen 75% of the time and talk 25% of the time. People are coming and talking to you because they have something they want to tell you. Don’t assume that they want your opinions or for you to relate to them unless they ask for it or the conversation leans in that direction. Don’t immediately turn the conversation into something you’d rather talk about or into something about you. They didn’t come to learn about you, most likely, but to relay something important to you. Make sure you are listening and get your ego out of the way.

If you do learn that they seem to want confirmation or acceptance, you can relate a similar story about yourself, but keep it brief. They have come to talk. Rarely do people come to you just to sit and listen to whatever you feel the urge to say at the moment.

Step 4: Take a Second Look at First Impressions
As the conversation continues, sort out for yourself how this needs to be perceived. Don’t go off of your first gut-reaction. You need to observe the person and think about the situation entirely before jumping to any rash decisions or assumptions.

Why is this person coming to you with this information? What do they expect to get from your conversation? What would you like to hear in a similar circumstance but with the tables turned?

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Even if you are wrong, you’ll feel better about being wrong than if you had not trusted a person of integrity in the beginning.

Step 5: Step Back
Take your emotions out of the equation. Force yourself to step back and use your observation skills to make a decision rather than your emotions. Although our emotions are a gift from God, we do not always use them correctly and often cause hurt, distrust, and degradation. When you check your emotions out of the game, you immediately become more observant, a better listener, and are able to think more clearly. Carry on the conversation in this manner, not with the emotions that may have arisen during your talk. Make sure you act and do not react.

Are you a good listener? If so, what do you feel contributes to this? If not, what can you work on?

I swiped this info from a presentation that I attended for work purposes. The five steps and some examples are not my own although some of the elaborations are mine. I shared them in hopes that you can use them as I plan to be able to.

Photo credit: Ambro


  1. this was a really great article. thank you for posting this! listening is always something I can work on.

  2. Me too, Tara! When I heard this I thought, "is this guy talking to anyone else in the room" because it felt like it was made just for me! That's actually why I shared it - I figured if it hit so close to home with me, it was sure to touch someone else too!

    Thanks for reading!