Become a Better Listener

Businessman sitting alone on a seminar.

Listening is the ability to listen to more than just the words that are being spoken. Listening allows you to find out what people actually know and don’t know, what has and hasn’t been accomplished, where the concerns and misunderstandings are as well as the enthusiasm and clarity.

Listening creates an atmosphere of mutual respect – one where people feel valued and encouraged to express their ideas, opinions and concerns. When genuinely listened to, individuals tend to be loyal and committed and more enthusiastic about achieving great results. Listening involves bringing about and finding common ground, connecting to each other and opening up to new possibilities.

Pay Attention

When you truly pay attention and give the speaker your undivided attention you create the setting for a productive dialogue. While you are in conversation with others pay attention to:

  • Your frame of mind
  • Your body language
  • The other person

Defer Judgment

As a listener, you need to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Good listeners make the other person feel supported and convey confidence in them. The best listeners create a safe environment in which issues and differences are discussed openly.

  • Practice empathy
  • Demonstrate an open mind
  • Acknowledge difference
  • Be patient


Our personal filters, assumptions and beliefs can often distort what we hear. As a listener your role is to understand what is being said, both through the information shared and the feelings expressed. The ability to reflect the other person’s content as well as their feelings create strong rapport and deepen the exploration. When you reflect paraphrase both the information you heard and the emotions you experienced.

  • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” or “Sounds like you are saying…” are both great ways to reflect back to the speaker.
  • Ask probing, clarifying and open-ended questions that promote discovery and insight.
  • Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically. Summarizing helps people set their key themes and it confirms and solidifies your grasp of their point of view.


Listening actively is a model for respect and understanding. It’s first about understanding the other person and then about being understood. As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective, it’s time to introduce your ideas, feelings and suggestions and address any concerns.

  • Challenge assumptions and disagree in a respectful way that makes the other person feel like you are genuinely trying to help.
  • Be candid, open and honest in your response.
  • Provide feedback in a way that the other person accepts it. This will open up alternative paths to consider.

Adapted from Active Listening by Michael H. Hoppe, Center for Creative Leadership