Listeners Blog

Tag Archives: Active Listening Skills


With cellphones everywhere, we have all heard our share of one-sided conversations. Most of us automatically tune out these days, since we don’t really need to know the dinner plans of the person sitting next to us on the bus. We bring down our personal Cone of Silence to protect ourselves from involuntary eavesdropping.

Unfortunately, we can also carry this defensive inattention with us into the rest of our day. In situations where people are wearing headsets or Bluetooth devices, it might even be difficult to know whether we are supposed to be part of a face-to-face conversation, so we start listening only for clues about when we are expected to answer. We stop trying to hear what might not be important to us, ignoring that being heard might be extremely important to the person speaking.

Remember the old Far Side cartoon where the man was trying to teach his dog a trick, but all the dog heard was her name: “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah”? Staying on the surface of conversations creates a similar attitude, which makes it difficult to recognize when someone is trying to bring up an important subject, let alone respond appropriately.

We should all check in with ourselves throughout the day to be sure that we are really listening not just to the words other people are saying but to the meaning they are trying to communicate. Especially if they are actually talking to us.



Listening Effectively at WorkIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you likely spend time thinking about how to be a better listener for your friends and family, because you truly care about how they feel and want to help them talk through important issues. But if you’re like most of us, you spend more time at work, which may or may not be with family — or friends.

That doesn’t make active listening any less important. In fact, poor communication in the workplace can have a major impact on the growth and success of the organization.

Think about your last staff meeting. Can you remember what was decided or something important that you learned? Or do you remember checking your lunch plans or texting snarky remarks about how the boss was droning on?

You’re not alone. Nearly three-quarters of professionals surveyed by Wolf Management Consultants admitted to doing unrelated work in meetings; more than a third said they had actually dozed off. So it’s fair to say that they were not actively engaged in listening.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a poorly run meeting, although you can use supportive listening techniques to enhance your communication with clients, peers and anyone else in the workplace.

Give whoever is speaking your full attention by making eye contact and turning away from distractions like pinging messages. Let the person know you are following what they are saying through nods and affirmations. Don’t interrupt, and don’t get sidetracked thinking up your response before they’ve finished speaking.

If the conversation is difficult or delicate – say, with an unhappy employee or a disgruntled customer – it can be helpful to repeat or paraphrase what you think you heard so that both parties understand they are on the same page before continuing.

Surprisingly, sometimes that’s all it takes to resolve an issue: Letting someone know that you are really, truly listening and trying to understand.



Here at the beginning of a new year — a year that also marks the beginning of a number of new great cycles— we are filled with anticipation of all the possibilities before us. How better to stay open to those possibilities than to listen like a beginner?

Zen philosophy teaches “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” When you let go of the idea that you know everything there is to know about a subject, you can look at it with new eyes. When you let go of the idea that you know everything about another person, you can listen with new ears.

When someone needs a supportive listener to help talk through some important issues, they are not necessarily looking for answers. If you open up your beginner’s ear, you can hear what they are saying without any preconceptions or judgments. If you allow them to find their own truth without imposing your own approach to problem-solving — “If I were you, I’d do this” or “Here’s what you should do” — the results can be incredibly powerful, for both of you.

By talking to someone with a beginner’s ear, you can discover thoughts and solutions that come from your inner being. By listening with a beginner’s ear, you will learn that you don’t know what you don’t know.

And knowing that can be the beginning of wisdom.



I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
— Ernest Hemingway

One of the great mysteries of this life is why more people don’t listen to each other. There is so much to learn when others share their thoughts and feelings and views of the world. But most of us are too distracted by outside stimuli or our own inner dialog to pay real attention to what other people have to say.

When something is in short supply, it immediately gains in value. In today’s world, people willing to take the time to listen carefully, fully, and non-judgmentally are extremely hard to find. Yet anyone who has received the precious gift of being heard completely will never forget the experience – it is as wonderful as it is rare.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. 
— Bryant H. McGill

Active, supportive listening is one of the greatest acts of compassion a human being can commit. It is not a random act of kindness. It is focused and intentional and creates a lasting good that perhaps only the speaker can truly understand. It is truly one of the most powerful forces on earth.

Too often we underestimate the power a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
— Leo Buscaglia



At this time of year, it seems everyone wants to look back and pick his or her annual Top 10 list. Movies, books, fashion trends, news stories, scandals – if there’s more than a dozen things in a category, someone somewhere is going to rank the Top 10.

A poll by the MLive Media Group in December 2011 found the most popular New Year’s resolution for 2012 was “to lose weight,” followed by “spend more time with family and friends,” “get out of debt,” and “quit smoking or drinking.” (On New Year’s Day, Time magazine included those among the top ten resolutions most likely to be broken!)

LINK: Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions 

A goodly percentage of people say they don’t make resolutions but still strive to make improvements in their lives or behavior on an ongoing basis.

Why not resolve to become a better listener in 2013?

Here are our Top 10 suggestions on where to start:

  1. Listen more, talk less.
  2. Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying.
  3. Don’t interrupt with your own story.
  4. Occasionally repeat or rephrase what you are hearing for the benefit of the speaker.
  5. Think before offering criticism or giving advice.
  6. Be open for what you may elicit – stay with it. Stay open.
  7. Listen to the silence between the words.
  8. Whatever is said, offer sincere thanks for the giver’s willingness to tell you the truth.
  9. Laugh when you see the humor….and you’re pretty sure the other person will too!
  10. Learn what to let go of and when.

What changes would you make to improve your own listening habits?

Let us know in the comments section.



“To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It’s a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.” – Deborah Tannen

Social media has brought people together like no other technological advancement in history. The paradox of this increased connectivity is that many of us feel less deeply connected to other human beings. We share information, but we rarely have meaningful conversations about our complex feelings online.

As humans, we need to share our ideas, our problems, our relationships, to help sort out the good and bad about our journey through life. Philosophers, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, writers, artists — anyone who has ever had a best friend or an understanding grandparent — all know the value of having someone to talk to openly and freely, in complete confidence.

“One person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider a problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.” — E. H. Mayo

Such a confidant has our complete, unconditional trust. He or she listens to us when we need to be heard, to help us find the answers and knowledge locked away within us. Speaking to a confidant can be personally transformative, as we let our thoughts and feelings out into the world with another caring human being who will keep them — and us — safe and secure.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl Menninger