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How to Become a Better Listener

Two Parts:Listening ActivelyProviding Feedback

Research reveals that we tend to remember just 25 percent of what we hear. Developing the ability to listen, really listen, helps to build strong social and professional relationships as well as memory. Read on to find out how to become a better listener.

Part 1
Listening Actively

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    Look at the speaker. There's nothing that more quickly signals "I'm not paying attention" than staring over someone's head. Make eye contact to illustrate your respect and attention.
    • Some people feel uncomfortable making "too much eye contact." Looking somewhere nearby, like between the eyes or at the nose is a good way to train yourself to make eye contact.[1]
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    Show that you're listening. Nod frequently to encourage the speaker. Smile. Small words like "yes" and "right" will show that you're engaged in the conversation, that you're listening, and that you wish for the speaker to continue.
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    "Listen" to body language.[2] A great deal of communication happens through body position and movement. Pay attention to the signals the person gives you. Car accidents are no joke, but if a story about a recent fender-bender is being told with bright eyes, grins, and wild gestures, it's a good indication that the story is supposed to be funny.
    • Also pay attention to your own body language as a listener. If you're grinning during a sad story, or if you're slouched with your arms crossed, it communicates that you're unattached from the conversation and focused on yourself. Sit up, lean forward, and make eye contact.
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    Avoid distractions. Whether it's a side conversation, your phone, or the cute barista, splitting your attention between the speaker and something else will signal that you're uninterested.
    • Too often, instead of listening, we like to wait for our turn to speak. Anticipating what the other person is going to say or preparing a rebuttal before they're finished speaking means that you're not actually having a conversation, you're waiting for your turn. Wait to formulate a response until it's appropriate to make one.
    • Multitasking while you are on the phone seems efficient and harmless if the person can't see you, but distracting yourself with other things
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    Don't interrupt. Even if someone is saying something you disagree with wildly, keep it civil. Wait for an opportune and tactful moment to voice your disagreement. Listening actively to your uncle's tirade against a politician you support at Thanksgiving will only provide you with the ammunition to thoroughly dismantle it later.

Part 2
Providing Feedback

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    Summarize and paraphrase. One of the best ways to signal that you're listening is to periodically repeat what you've been told. Starting sentences with "It sounds like what you're saying is..." or "What I'm hearing is..." will encourage the speaker and it will prove that you've listened to what they've said. This also gives them an opportunity to clarify anything you've misunderstood or transition into your response.
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    Ask questions. Another great way to listen actively is to ask open and leading questions, or ask for clarification about something you're confused about. If you're asking questions, it means that you're interested in the responses, making the speaker feel comfortable and "listened to."
    • Try to ask questions with complicated answers: "What did you major in?" is less interesting than "What was college like for you?"
    • If a person's story starts fizzling out, ask for specific details. Asking "What are the people like in Paris?" or "Does your uncle enjoy hunting squid?" will rekindle the story, giving the speaker a new avenue to explore.
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    Use tact. When it comes time for you to contribute to the conversation, put yourself in the speaker's shoes. Assert your opinion on the matter respectfully, being candid, open, and honest.
    • Parroting what the speaker says or saying what you think they want to hear is a quick way to condescend, while ignoring their feelings entirely is rude. Neither displays good listening.
    • The latin root of "tact" means "touch," which is helpful to keep in mind when you respond. A conversation is a kind of intimacy. Someone has trusted you enough to tell you something and is willing to hear out your response, so be kind.
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    Respond appropriately. If a group conversation revolves around funny lunchroom stories from elementary school, it won't signal good listening if you suddenly shift subjects and talk about how excited you are to study abroad or the whaling story you just heard on NPR.
    • You don't have to speak. It's ok if you don't have much to contribute to a particular topic of conversation, but changing subjects just so you can contribute is self-centered and rude. Encourage the speaker and see what you can learn.


  • Always ask questions if something is not clear. Try not to make assumptions about meaning or intention.

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills | Maintaining Relationships