Listeners Blog

Tag Archives: How to Listen to Someone


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.



This might not come as a surprise, but research continues to prove that multitasking really isn’t very efficient.

In fact, the most recent study, from the University of Utah, found that the people who thought they were the best at multitasking were more likely to be those who were most easily distracted by interruptions. Previous studies have also shown that the human brain doesn’t switch gears very rapidly; it also doesn’t retain information received from multiple sources simultaneously very well.

When it comes to actually accomplishing tasks, focused individuals — those who don’t respond immediately to every email ding or pop-up message or bright, shiny object— actually get more done.

The same is true when it comes to listening. If you really want to hear what someone is saying, you need to clear a space, not only in your day but also in your mind. Truly meaningful conversations can only take place where there are no interruptions, no distractions. That allows you the freedom to concentrate completely on what the other person is saying. Then you can truly hear and support that person as he or she talks through important issues.

Creating an interruption-free zone for a conversation shows that you are sincerely interested in what the speaker has to say, and there is nothing more important in that moment to you than hearing it. That alone can help build the kind of trust needed to begin a conversational journey to an inner truth.



Did you know that the right to be heard is one of the fundamental human rights recognized by the United Nations? It was spelled out in 1989 as Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child — children have a right to express their views on decisions that affect them and have those views taken seriously in accordance with their age and maturity.

Not surprisingly, Save the Children and UNICEF found in 2011 that this article has been the most difficult to implement, even after more than 20 years of effort. While the UN says it is not possible to claim other rights without a voice, traditions in cultures around the world weigh heavily against grownups really listening to kids, let alone taking what they say seriously.

Think about some of our common Western ideas: Children should be seen and not heard. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk back to your elders. Teenagers aren’t interested in what adults have to say.

Doesn’t sound like the basis for an open dialog, does it? So it shouldn’t be a shock that the latest research shows that the best way for parents to develop a healthy relationship with their children is to listen to them.

Whenever you talk with young people, take the time to really hear what is behind their questions — do they really want to know “where babies come from” or whether the family ever moved into a new house? Give them space to form their thoughts without interruption or correction. Never make them feel silly or ashamed of asking questions just because you think you know the answers. And don’t assume you know where the conversation is going — you just might learn something new.

If you carry these rules over into conversations with adults, you will become a better listener, no matter who is speaking.



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.



Airplanes offer a unique opportunity for a positive listening experience. Not only are they one of the few public places not yet filled with cellphone shouters, they also place us in close, nearly intimate, proximity to our seatmates for hours. And unless you’re traveling to an industry convention or a secluded resort, there’s a good chance you’ll never see the person next to you again.

The next time you find yourself sharing an armrest with a complete stranger, forget what your mother always told you. Instead of sticking in the earbuds, try striking up a conversation. A neutral comment about the weather, getting to the airport, your destination can signal a willingness to talk; following up with a question will let you know if your seatmate is also interested in talking. If not, respect his or her privacy and read your SkyMall.

If the person next to you wants to interact, remember the first rule of good conversation: “It’s better to be interested than interesting.” Decide to listen totally to the other person. Be attentive, make eye contact, and acknowledge that you are hearing the other person without judgment. Don’t interrupt, don’t think ahead to what you’ll say next, don’t overshare. Ask more questions, make fewer statements.

Remember, a real conversation is a two-handed game. If you start small and listen with an open heart and an open mind, you may find that by the time you touch down, you have both had a transformational experience.