The Art of Listening

If there is one thing that many people have taken for granted, it is listening. Yes we all hear but we do not listen. When we listen to be people we give them a chance to share their world with us and as a result there are several benefits.

Listening is not just being polite and can add a great deal of value for the listener. You can also get a lot done.

Great leaders, coaches and facilitators are also great listeners.


Building trust

People who listen are trusted more than those who grab the talking stick and barge straight into chatter. Trust is the grease of changing minds and listening is the key.


If you listen first to others and more to others, then your credibility with them (and with other listeners) will go up. They are perceived as competent, capable and working with others rather than against them. Good leaders are good at listening and good listeners are seen as potentially good leaders.


Listening alone is a good supportive activity that people appreciate, especially when they are upset or otherwise concerned. Listening shows respect and empathy for other people. By listening, you are sending a message that says ‘You are important to me. I respect you.’ Listening thus boosts their sense of identity.

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You might assume that you are a good listener when actually you are not so how do you know or learn how to be a listener. Good listening revolves around certain attributes like receptive body language, eye contact among other things.

The following attributes of good listening are suggestive of the skills needed. There is some overlap between the various attributes, but each suggests something different.

Concentration. Good listening is normally hard work. At every moment we are receiving literally millions of sensory messages. Nerve endings on our bottom are telling us the chair is hard, others are saying our clothes are binding, nerve ending in our nose are picking up the smells of cooking French fries, or whatever, our ears are hearing the buzzing of the computer fan, street sounds, music in the background and dozens of other sounds, our emotions are reminding us of that fight we had with our mate last night, and thousands more signals are knocking at the doors of our senses. We have to repress almost all of these and concentrate on the verbal sounds (and visual clues) from one source – the speaker. And this concentration, if something that most of us have not been thoroughly trained in how to do.

Focus your attention – on the words, ideas and feeling related to the subject. Concentrate on the main ideas or points. Don’t let examples or fringe comments detract you. All of this takes a conscious effort.

Attention. Attention may be defined as the visual portion of concentration on the speaker. Through eye contact (see below) and other body language, we communicate to the speaker that we are paying close attention to his/her messages. All the time we are reading the verbal and nonverbal cues from the speaker, the speaker is reading ours. What messages are we sending out? If we lean forward a little and focus our eyes on the person, the message is we are paying close attention.

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Good listeners have certain characteristics. When you are talking to them, their mind does not wander off. They give you all the attention when you are speaking to them. They also try to fit into your shows and feel how its like to be going through what you are going through.

They are present

Being mindful in conversations is a hallmark characteristic of a good listener, Sacco notes. When you’re fully aware in the moment, you’re more likely to retain what you’re hearing and respond with more authenticity. That means stashing those phones and ridding yourself of all distractions. “Good listeners really put everything down and focus on [the person in front of them],” he says. “And as a result, the other person becomes instantly aware that they have an interest in what they have to say.”

They’re empathetic.

Part of effective listening is the effort to empathize with the person you’re speaking with. Whether or not you’re able to fully relate, your compassion won’t go unnoticed. “Spend a moment putting yourself in their position, what’s going through their head and what it must be like for them,” Sacco says. “Understanding what their experience is even before you talk to them [can help you connect with them]. And it sounds bad, but even if you blow it, you’re still better off because the other person will see the attempt.”

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