Listening Skills

by Steve Roche

In a nutshell

1. Why is listening important?

  • It is a basic life skill that gives a powerful message to those around you.
  • It is key to maintaining productive relationships.
  • Organisations need to listen in order to survive.


2. Good listening versus poor listening

What is good listening?

  • It is taking in all the information available, not just the words.
  • It is showing your understanding, by reflecting and summarising.
  • It starts with listening to yourself.
  • A good listener seeks first to understand, then to be understood.

Poor listeners are impatient, listen with the intent to reply and fail to pay attention to discovering the other person’s reality.


3. The art of reflecting

A key listening skill is to reflect the content of what a person has said back to them. There are three ways in which you can reflect what the speaker is saying:

  • restating single words or short phrases to check on meaning and encourage clarification
  • paraphrasing the core message in the speaker’s language to show understanding and check that you have understood correctly
  • summarising, which allows the speaker to add to or review what they have said.


4. How to listen well

Listeners must ask themselves: Why am I listening? What are my objectives?

Answers might include:

  • to gather information
  • to build the relationship
  • to give the other person time to explore
  • to challenge their thinking.

Being aware of all your objectives allows you to choose the optimum attitude, state, physiology and attention for listening.


5. Testing your listening

To know whether you are listening well you can ask for feedback:

‘Did you feel listened to? If not, why not?’

The speaker must see, hear and feel that the listener is getting the message.

We often repeat ourselves because we sense that a listener is not ‘getting it’. The listener can help move a conversation on by doing the repeating themselves.

  • Includes a checklist to test your listening skills.


6. How to become a better listener

Look at the areas where you scored poorly on the testing your listening exercise. Review your answers to the listed statements as well as your response to the checklist. Then write down:

  • What you need to start doing to become a more effective listener
  • What you need to continue doing to be an effective listener
  • What you need to stop doing to become a more effective listener.


7. When to stop listening

It’s great to have a reputation as a ‘good listener’. But it’s not usually enough on its own. Some good listeners are not so good at saying what they themselves feel, which can give the impression that they agree with everything that’s been said, and lead to problems later on.

It is possible to interrupt without losing rapport, so long as you say what you are going to do and then do it, respectfully but firmly.