Why You Need to Be a Good Listener—and How to Know if You Are

Why you need to be a good listerner


We all know that listening is important. Failure to be a good listener leads to everything from costly mistakes to angry employees. Most of us think that we’re good listeners, but that could be a skill that is better or worse at different times. For example, we may be great listeners when people are telling us what we want to hear, but less so when we’re getting advice or feedback that may be difficult.

Fortunately, like most areas, there are experts in listening who can help us get better at hearing the things we need to hear, whether we like them or not. That’s not to say that you have to take all the advice you’re given or accept and acct on all of the feedback you’re given from advisors, employees and others. But, before dismissing good advice because it doesn’t meet preconceived notions, it might be a good idea to truly listen and consider it. Here are a few tips to help.

Avoid checking out. Sometimes, it’s hard to stay present during a conversation. The mind has a tendency to wonder, so staying apart of the conversation at all times is one of the most effective ways of getting the most out of any interaction. According to Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better, some listeners aren’t paying attention to the discussion points that are being presented. Instead, they jump to conclusions before the speaker is done talking. Once they have formulated an opinion, they are listening through the filter of that opinion (or not listening at all). If you’re finding that your inner dialogue is drowning out the voice of the speaker, it’s time to check back into the conversation.

“To counter the racing mind, it is helpful to take notes during your meeting and periodically stop the conversation to restate what you think you’ve heard,” Steere says. Being aware of eye contact, body positioning, and focusing on what’s being said instead of your own thoughts can decrease the likelihood of the check out.

Eliminate listening barriers. Be aware of the barriers that get in the way of actively listening. It’s easy to fall victim to bad listening skills. Checking out, multitasking, and psychological barriers are some of the most common barriers that Steere suggests to be aware of before listening.

“Realize that you’re seeing the world through a filter,” says Ivan Rosenberg, president and CEO of Frontier Associates. “We are fitting [information] into our own existing world.” Avoid having expectations and conclusions already in mind. Understand that there are other perspectives, assumptions, and understandings to keep in mind other than your own.

Understand intent. According to Rosenberg, there is an intended message, what was actually said, what we heard, and how we interpret what we’ve heard. Understanding the intent of a message breaks down the walls of miscommunication and allows for effective listening.

“Rather than coming into the conversation with ‘I know,’ come into the conversation with a healthy dose of ‘I don’t know,’” Rosenberg says. If you find yourself uncertain about key points in your discussion, take time to stop the conversation and ask questions. Clarity is key. Slowing down the conversation can help with understanding the speaker’s intentions for their message. Repeating the message back in the way you heard it can also help uncover areas of misunderstanding.

Respond when the time is right. Recognize and repress the urge to interrupt or argue. Be aware of the right time respond. Steere advises that it is important to slow down your pace and your desire to “be done” with the issue. Wait until the speaker has expressed all of his or her points before responding. A hasty response can oftentimes sidetrack the conversation while making it more about you and less about who is speaking.

“When employees [or others] can speak what’s on their mind, share concerns, voice ideas, and contribute to problem-solving and decision-making, they feel energized and more invested in your organization. When you listen, you communicate that you value employees as part of the team,” Steere says.

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