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Five Habits of Good Listeners

“Listen until it hurts!” – Steve Wiley, Lincoln Leadership Institute

I have to work at listening well. I know I can look someone in the eye, nod with conviction, and be thinking about something else. At other times, I hear the first sentence and spend the rest of my time formulating my rebuttal. Listening is the communication skill that makes the most impact on others and their perceptions of us.

Most people don’t care what we have to say until they are sure they have been heard.

Five Habits of Good Listeners

1. Patience

A good listener’s first priority is to truly understand. Therefore a good listener is willing to listen longer than she wants to.

She is less concerned about the effectiveness and brevity of the speaker and more concerned about her own ability to understand. Therefore, she has the patience wait on what is important and focus on that.

Tips to help you have patience:

  • Ask yourself if you are listening or just waiting to talk.

  • Count to three before you respond in order to be sure the speaker is done.

  • Listen until it hurts.

2. Focus

A good listener fights to remain engaged even when he has other things competing for his attention. I had a boss who I could hear typing while we spoke on the phone. As a result, I knew I was not a priority no matter what my leader said.

Tips to help you focus:

  • Turn your chair away from the computer when you pick up the phone or someone enters the office. Don’t be distracted.

  • Every time you look at your phone when you are with someone else, you send a message that states “I think this text is more important than you are.”

  • Turn off /pause the TV when your spouse or children speak to you. They are always more important than whatever you are watching.

  • Listen until it hurts.

3. Eye Contact

A good listener maintains eye contact with the speaker. Her eyes are not pulled away to people or distractions behind the speaker. Every time someone looks away while I am speaking, I lose confidence in that person’s desire to understand my point.

Tips to help your eye contact:

  • Don’t lean back. Lean in when the other person is speaking. This communicates their importance and helps limit the background distractions.

  • Sit facing the wall and seat them with their back to the wall to limit your field of vision to just them.

  • Listen until it hurts.

4. Clarify

A good listener always checks to insure he heard the speaker accurately. True listening has not occurred until the other person understands that you understand.

Tips to help you clarify:

  • Repeat back what you believe the other person just said. You will be surprised how often you are wrong and how often this technique avoids misunderstandings.

  • Do not assume you understand everything. Ask open ended questions (Who, What, Where, Why…) to get the whole picture.

  • Listen until it hurts.

5. Taking Notes

A good listener sends a message to the speaker when she takes notes. She is telling the speaker, “What you are saying is important, I do not want to miss anything.”

Too many people think carrying a notebook and taking notes shows a lack of focus or some other weakness. However, lack of follow through and missing details is the real problem.

Tips to help you take notes:

  • Ask permission to take notes. “I don’t want to miss anything, would you mind if I take some notes.”

  • Send the key points from your notes to the other person to verify your commitments.

  • Carry one notebook or device to keep all your notes in one place and date the top of every page for easy reference.

  • Listen until it hurts.

To read a blog about team communications click on the following title: A That Values Communication.

The Bottom Line:

People trust a good listener because they demonstrate that they care about the person speaking more than they care about themselves. The habits of patience, focus, eye contact, clarifying, and note taking separate a good listener from the rest of us.

Perhaps the most underrated relationship building tool is listening. Let’s face it – everyone likes to talk about themselves. When someone is truly interested in what you have to say, they become very likable don’t they?

Good listeners have fewer misunderstandings. The time it takes to “listen until it hurts” is more than made up for by eliminating the time spent to clear up the ensuing misunderstandings.


What listening tools have you made a habit of using?


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