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Are you a good listener?

November 25, 2022 | Amber Daines

Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) made famous a quote: “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

And even though it’s some years since this became a bit of a buzzphrase in the corporate and life coaching arena, few people manage, in reality, to be great listeners.

Many people are good listeners, sure … but don’t you want to be great?

Effective listening is, after all, the cornerstone of robust communication.

I loved being a journalist, but more than that, I’m grateful for all my years as a journalist because it gave me invaluable life skills you don’t get from many professions.

One is the ability to listen effectively. A journalist must listen effectively to conduct a good interview and ask pertinent questions. It’s a skill we can be taught … but to become great at listening, you must continually practice some simple disciplines.

So what exactly does it mean to be a good listener? I think it boils down to these five things:

Being present and focused on the person who is talking

Don’t be distracted! If you’re face-to-face, use eye contact or lean in to show genuine interest in the person you’re talking to. This also helps to build rapport and gentle trust.

The additional benefit of being focused is that you can take a lot more in than just what a person is saying – body language makes up about half of what people are conveying, tone of voice is about 40%, and actual words make up around 10 percent.

You’ll miss most of what someone communicates if you’re not actively listening – your ears and eyes. If you’re not face-to-face, you can’t rely on body language, so it’s important not to get distracted.

Being genuinely curious about what the other person is saying

I always believe that everyone has something to teach me – even if it’s just a witty one-liner I can store in the memory bank for another time!

You run the risk of missing the good stuff someone says if you’re not genuinely curious about where the conversation is headed … And this is where the next point becomes valid.

Staying open-minded

We all have a habit of judging people, things, circumstances, etc. Even if we’re unaware of it – our personal biases typically run subconsciously. But here’s where staying present and in-the-moment, can help. When you’re focused, your mind has less of a tendency to wander into judgment territory…. When you pre-judge, you stop being curious … So you can see how it can be a communications barrier.

Asking the right kind of questions

Open-ended questions are the best. What do I mean by that? Frame your questions in a way that means people can’t just give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ in response unless you’re seeking clarification on something that was just said.

Ask questions that require more information to be shared … What, Where, When, How, and Why? Invite the other person to share more detailed information that’s valuable.

Listening to understand

Ok, so while all of the above are characteristics of a good listener, if you want to be a great listener, then there’s just one more thing you should include in your conversations.

… And it’s easy!

Repeat and/or paraphrase what the other person has told you so you can be sure that what they said was the same as what you comprehended.

Along the lines of …” If I understood you correctly, you said X, Y, and Z?”… or

“So that I understand, you said… A, B, C, and D.”

You can even say something like … “So, do you mean … 1, 2, 3 … am I understanding that correctly?”

If not, you can sort out miscommunications right there and then by getting the other person to provide you with more clarity, so you know for sure that you’re both “on the same page,” as they say.

Bonus – it also lets the other person know you were paying attention! And we all like feeling that our time and opinion are valued. Amber Daines media training focuses on building these skills. While we call it media training because it has a media focus, our training is designed as “communications training” because we aim to help everyone improve their communication skills while learning valuable tips, tricks, and strategies for dealing with the media.

In the Digital Age, communication is a crucial skill – whether interacting with another person, writing for an audience, speaking to an audience, podcasting, leading a team, doing a media interview, or filming a marketing and promotions video solo for social media.

Talk to us if you want to build a team of great communicators.

We find that when groups do our media training, it has a positive impact on team culture, too, because everyone learns to listen more attentively. They also tend to feel more confident asking questions, too. The benefits of better information sharing, reducing miscommunications that can lead to mistakes, and conflict resolution are invaluable.