5 Ways To Be A Better Listener

Here’s a question from one of the top commenters here on the site, Lily Kreitinger.

Listen

Chris, I just went through my annual performance review. I had good feedback from my leaders on the positive aspects on my performance.

They also provided feedback on the areas in which I can grow. One of the observations they made is that I tend to talk over people at a meeting, especially when conflict is involved.

It seems like I want to get past it and resolve it quickly, rather than let the other person explain their situation. What can I do to be a better listener so I can let my team and clients know I truly care about them?

Lily Kreitinger 

Hey Lil, I can definitely say that you’re not the only person who struggles with this. There are a few key things I think you should focus on.

  • Understand that well over half of our population hates conflict. And when it arrises, they have a tendency to overcompensate with their actions in an attempt to shut down the conflict. That doesn’t solve anything. Instead, recognize that the situation is uncomfortable, and instruct yourself to allow it to happen…at least for a bit.
  • Realize that chances are the other person is uncomfortable as well. Especially if they’ve experienced you shutting them down in the past. If they are concerned, then they will have a tendency to do whatever it takes to get their opinion heard.
  • I don’t remember who said it, but you have two ears and one mouth. Use the ratios accordingly. The actual resolution isn’t as important as the communication. Do everything you can to hear all of what the other person needs to say.
  • Construct your response carefully. All the listening in the world won’t mean a thing if you come off defensive or attacking. Let them know that heard what they said even if it means you have to repeat parts of it.
  • Focus on the absolute best outcome. It’s not about winning by shutting the conflict down. Instead, be genuinely concerned about the outcome of the situation. When we hate conflict, we’ll do whatever it takes to get it over. Even if that means making a decision that isn’t the best one.

As you take these things into consideration, you begin to focus more on their being people involved, instead of just issues. Then you begin to understand that it’s more important to set up a communication process that solves problems, instead eliminates conflict.

Question: How would you advise Lily? 

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75 thoughts on “5 Ways To Be A Better Listener”

  1. Kudos to Lily for taking personal accountability! Would be EASY to go into the blaming mode…loved how she framed this question.

    Probably the biggest thing to help is her being aware of this. I think over time as you “catch” herself it will be easier to recognize.

    Perhaps having a trusted mentor give her feedback from time to time might help to ensure she is on the right track.

    Great question!!!
    Live Beyond Awesome.
    Jen

  2. Thanks Chris! Definitely very helpful and applicable strategies. It goes back to personality and communication styles. It was interesting to hear from someone else how my behavior perceived, which is definitely different from my intention. I’m still working on engaged listening and trying not to formulate an answer before the other person is finished talking. This is one of the growth areas I’ll focus on this year. And… I can’t wait to hear from the rest of the tribe and blog readers.

    1. Not forming an answer while the other person is talking…hmm, seems like I read another blog post about that recently…. 😉
      It is definitely useful to find out how other’s see us, because its always totally different than we see us, because we know our intentions and thoughts, others can only judge us by our actions!

        1. Oh c’mon Lil, its not like we’re capitalizing on your weaknesses!! ok, well, maybe just a little 🙂 but its all in the spirit of helping and encouraging 🙂
          You could call my wife and start blogging about my weaknesses…you’d have material for decades! 😉

          1. I’m appreciating all ‘your advice’ myself. I’m reforming my ways when it comes to listening. I think, where I am right now, I need to practice ‘mirroring back’ to show understanding/ check for understanding before I speak. Tough to remember that in the heat of the moment….

  3. Whenever I can feel myself starting to not listen as well as I need to, I go to an old tool someone taught me my sophomore year of college:

    To listen better, repeat back what the other person just said to you. (Not parroting them, but paraphrasing.)

    This does two things: 1) It ensures that they know you heard them and their issues and 2) it allows any misunderstandings to be cleared up before you formulate your response. I’ve found it’s a great way to help me improve my listening and to ensure that the person speaking feels heard.

    1. The ol’ Stephen Covey principles! And then you go on from simply paraphrasing to paraphrasing and reflecting emotions…
      Though, parroting is fun if you’re with friends and just messing around and talking about listening better. It’s also a blast with my four year old… 🙂

    2. Great reminder Jaselyn.
      I took social work in university and had to take a counseling course – the concept you mentioned here is one of the things we were taught to do. Funny thing: every time I tried to do it back then, people would accuse me of ‘Social working them.’

      That doesn’t happen much today because I don’t do it enough. Hmm. Thanks for the reminder.

      Burnt rice.

  4. You want my advice Lily? Quit talking so much. 🙂
    Ok, seriously. I love Chris’ ideas on this, I think he’s spot on (and I’m sure, with my endorsement, he’ll be able to finally move on with his life, haha)
    I think listening is tough because it takes a great deal of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-assurance. Truly listening means that you’re open to having your opinion and outlook changed, right now! And that is a very scary thing for most of us, it makes us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. So it’s easier to just push our opinion through and when the other person talks cover our ears and scream “LA LA LA LA LA!!!!” (figuratively, of course).
    Going into the conversation and looking for the best outcome (not necessarily your outcome) will set the groundwork for being willing to be influenced by the other person.
    This might just be the ramblings of a mad man, but it made sense in my head…
    P.S. also, don’t forget all the positive you got out of the performance review. I think I speak for all the commenters here when I say, you kinda rock 😉

      1. You know when I learned that I’m a bad listening? I was on my mission and my companion and I were walking down a street talking, and after about 4 minutes of me talking to myself I stopped and asked him why he’d quit talking? He responded that everytime he talked I’d cut him off and start talking about me, so he just quit talking. Every time I did that he would just stop talking.
        That was a powerful lesson. Everytime I realized he’d stopped talking, I’d sheepishly stop talking, apologize and ask his thoughts.
        I’ve never forgot that quiet, inspired lesson.

          1. It was an “I feel this big” moment…which isnt anything new for me, I feel small alot…but I was also pretty embarrassed. and I’d like to say he did it once and I learned, sadly, no. It took the entired 8 weeks we were together for me to work on it. I think I do better now. Atleast if I screw up now, I think of him and shut up…

    1. Bang. That was a hammer hitting a nail on the head. I think I tend to not listen well because of what you said here Mark: because at some level, there are times I’m afraid of being influenced. Or, afraid of maybe not getting my outcome. Nicely put!!!

  5. This was (well…is) a difficult one for me, too. Improving, or rather changing, how I listen was necessary as I worked on teaching better. When I listen to the students and ask short, direct questions, I can find out exactly what they need to know. It involves “active listening” or what Steven Covey called “emphatic listening” (active listening, but also making an emotional connection). When you take the time to really understand them, you can not only give a better answer, but you also make an emotional connection and build trust.

    I work with guys that have “their answer.” I would listen to the question and then “their answer” doesn’t quite match the question asked. The person that asked the question “doesn’t get it,” so the “wise” one with the answer gets frustrated and almost calls the person stupid. I try to intervene and help clarify if I understand the situation and what the person is really asking. I’m not perfect, but I’ve seen it work several times.

    1. I just smile anytime I see Stephen Covey quoted. 🙂 I wrote about empathic listening last week!
      I think you’re right, good listening leads to an emotional connection and increasing trust. And those are just as important as the actual listening!

  6. Wow. I have a post coming out on Wednesday about this very topic.

    I am expert on how to listen…because I am also an expert on how NOT to listen…because I was a horrible listener…OK still am sometimes.

    At the risk of self-promotion and inviting Mark Sieverkropp to break my blog that day, check out http://www.mattmcwilliams.com on Wednesday.

    Here are three of my favorite tips:

    1. Practice. A lot. You’ve got to practice listening well. That means doing it at home and elsewhere…listening while keeping your mouth shut. It’s hard for me.

    2. Fake it ’til you make it. Yes, I am suggesting this. If you have these three options, which do you choose?

    Option A: Bad listener – reality and perceived

    Option B: Bad listener – reality only

    Option C: Good listener – reality and perceived

    Of course, option C is first, but option B is much better than option A. So faking it is a better alternative to both being a bad listener and seeming like one.

    3. Get accountability partners. Find some people that you trust and tell them that you are trying to become a better listener. Ask them to hold you accountable.

    1. One other note in particular to what they said…

      At first, you don’t actually have to listen. You already aren’t.

      See the part about faking it until you make it.

      You can be trying to figure out the lyrics to “Oz” in your head for all I care. Just look like you are listening and don’t interrupt. Eventually you will turn around and listen better.

      Don’t try to be perfect overnight. Talk 5% less in your next meeting. When you feel the urge to interrupt, don’t…just once in your next meeting. If it’s not important, let it go.

      Over time you will get better.

      Just be careful not to lose your assertiveness that is a positive.

        1. Hey Lily, for what ever it worth, I just listen to the latest pod cast form Any Stanley on leadership. It also deals with how to be a better listener! (thanks for listening, Ha)

      1. letting it go, was a huge step for me to shut my mouth and hold my thoughts on the small stuff. and plus it makes the meetings focus and shorter

    2. seems like a popular time to do posts about listening 🙂 I had a series last week on listening. Tomorrow’s the final post of the series! Alot of people dont, but I really like the principle of “fake it till you make it”. Because to me, doing that is saying “I really suck at this, but I want to get better, so I’m gonna fake it until I can do it naturally!”
      Good stuff matt

        1. Haha, yup. been there. It usually ends with her telling me I don’t mean it and me replying “I’m trying!! doesn’t that count for something??” (to the newly married, no it does NOT count for anything!) haha

    3. Well Matt, I just checked out your web site and dang it, now I have another web site/blog that I’m hooked on! well done! and the changing pictures of your on top of the page is cool!

          1. I like that byline too “MattMcWilliams.com…40% better than women heroes” Catchy. No feminist groups will have any problems whatsoever with that Matt! (good catch Jon!)

  7. Hi Lily,

    Bottom line up front: Consider listening as a form of influence. Realize interrupting is rude and hard to stop. It will bevirtually impossible to mask the non-verbal behaviors. The speaker will begin to interrupt themselves because they can see your blank stare, face grimace, hands move, and body lean forward. Learn to allow someone else to waste your time by talking for their benefit – not yours. You benefit by building relationships and learning more about the speaker and their behaviors.

    I will first assume you are a high D personality type and have started skimming my response by now.

    Does another person’s pace frustrate you especially in tasks you’re accountable for? Are you afraid of being taken advantage of? Are you afraid of being a push-over?

    There are four classic D patterns (Creative, Developer, Inspirational, and Results Oriented) and each has little nuances. You’re not the “Inspirational” type because you would connect with the leaders through communication. You’re not a “Creative” or “Developer” type because you did not mention a lack of teamwork and tactfulness. I’ll reach and say you’re a “Results Oriented” high D.

    The problem description is more about influencing and less about listening. High D’s will always interrupt and talk fast. Other people are going down the wrong path. We need to interrupt them to get them back on task. We need them to understand the problem the way we see it. We have already discovered the root cause of the problem. We know what must be done to correct it.

    Any discussion unrelated to the problem is a distraction and a waste of time. We don’t have time to waste and must interrupt. We heard them. We know where they are going with the discussion. We don’t need to hear anymore. We interrupt. However, we are listening… and thinking… and problem solving… and ready to be done with this task.. while they are just talking. We will never get credit for listening until we show the behavior they expect which changes based on their DISC profile.

    If you still think listening is the only problem, do what Chis and the others have said. Word of caution, when I restate or parrot, it still comes of arrogant and condescending. If you listened to the voice in your head while reading this, how many times did you want to interrupt?

    Here’s another resource from Ted on listening, Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better
    http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_5_ways_to_listen_better.html

    Best of Luck,
    -Ed

    1. funny thing, Ed. She’s not a high D. If I remember right, she’s actually a high SC…
      Though I think you’re response is awesome. It’s so true, I think it’s human nature that “We know what must be done to correct it”. To us, our viewpoint is THE viewpoint. sadly, its not the correct viewpoint, simply a viewpoin.
      I’m definitely gonna look up that Ted talk!

    2. Wow, Ed, this is great insight. And Skropp is right, I’m not a high D. I joke about my profile being the “ISC” because D is always my lowest number. Bottom line is no matter the reason why I don’t listen, the result to the other person is always the same: they feel I don’t value what they have to say. Thanks for the great input.

      1. If that profile is correct, then I’m not sure you’re getting accurate feedback from your leaders and peers. The description is not typical. If you’re riding the profile middles then nailing down behaviors is situational. Consider your environment and the situation when you’re interrupting. If it’s when under stress, look at your core self. Take a DISC test with that mindset. There are the mirror (perceived/typical), mask (public others see), and core (private/instinctive) profiles at work. Others are seeing you different than you see yourself. Work on being consistent.

    3. Wow. I have to say that I’m not parroting as much as I should because of what you mentioned: not wanting to come off in the wrong way. I think I need to practice proper parroting and empathy again….

      1. I think parroting works if you started off as a horrible listening. Its instructive to teach listening skills. but most of us can just straight to paraphrasing. However, if we paraphrase and find that we heard incorrectly, perhaps we just step back to parroting until we do truly understand.

  8. Wow, Lily, you are brave to put yourself in the limelight this way!

    Sometimes people don’t want answers – they just want to be heard. Often, actually.

    It almost hurts physically to not talk when we have SO MUCH to say. (I wonder if it actually burns calories to hold back like that?) Then, not only are we holding back the words and ideas and thoughts, we have to exert the additional effort to HEAR what the other person is saying.

    It is really fun when you have learned to be quiet, hold onto your thoughts, let other people talk, and then FINALLY get asked, “What do you think”? Oh boy oh boy, that is really really fun!

    Knowing you, you will practice and work hard at it and get it. 😎

  9. I really appreciated the point you made about ‘instructing yourself to be in the moment of conflict for a bit’ – burnt rice for me there.

    Ahem…’Self….shut up and be in the confrontation for a while.’ 😉

  10. Anyone else find it ironic that Chris mentions in the first sentence that Lily is one of the top commenters on this blog, on a post about listening better? Or am I reading too much in to things? 🙂

    I’d suggest framing the conversation. Instead of saying things such as “I think,” “I believe,” “I feel,” and so on, I attempt to direct the conversation away from me by saying “let’s talk about ______.” It puts the emphasis on the subject, not on me. And since I mostly hate attention and confrontation myself (Lily and I have twin DISC profiles), directing the conversation on the subject works out for the better.

    Now I’ll go back to my shell.

  11. You may want to start introducing small “Soften-then-Reverse” phrases into your vocabulary. It’s a great way to acknowledge their point has been understand and lead into your rebuttal as well. An example of a few softening and reversing phrases can be found below…

    SOFTEN

    I understand

    I hear that a lot

    Thats a very good question

    That makes sense

    REVERSE

    Off the record…

    Let me see if I have this straight

    let’s pretend…

    Why are you asking that now?

  12. I would add, repeat in a calm voice some of their “big” points just to make sure your understanding what they are communicating, and also the whole eye contact/face demeanor, if possible don’t looked pissed if you can help it.

    Also take Zig’s advice if some one is really mad at you, give them two minutes to fully let it out! unfortunately I’ve needed to practice this and for being a person who doesn’t mind conflict(I know I’m a bit weird) this practice helps calm down any hurtful arguments that don’t need to happen.

  13. I wrote a post about listening last week in my link up with Bill Grandi discussing Love Works by Joel Manby. In my post, I offered 7 tips for improving our listening skills:

    1. Get rid of distractions. At home, turn off the
    television and the music. At the office, get away from the computer,
    and go into a closed office if necessary.

    2. Shut your mouth and open your ears. You can’t listen when your mouth is moving. In the first chapter of James, it says to “be quick to listen, slow to speak….”

    3. Take notes. Taking notes helps you remember what is shared in the conversation.

    4. Restate what was shared to check for understanding. “This is what I heard you say…. Do I understand you correctly?”

    5. Follow through with action. Assuming the idea or comment is valid, take action to address what was shared.

    6. Follow-up with your team member. After taking
    action, follow-up with your team member to make sure they know their
    concern has been addressed and to make sure it has been addressed
    appropriately.

    7. Repeat. This is not a one time event. It must
    happen over and over and over again. Trust will develop over time if
    our team members know we are really listening.

    To read the rest of the post click here: http://www.jonstolpe.com/2013/02/06/love-works-wednesday-link-up-week-4-trusting/

  14. I’m definitely exercising my listening skills by commenting late on this one today. 🙂

    I too struggle with this, but not in the way Lily does. I often find myself getting schooled in these situations by the stronger or quicker parties involved. Then hours or sometimes days later realizing things that I should have brought up but my emotions got the best of me at the time.

    With that being said, these suggestions are very helpful if I can just remember them in the moment!!!

  15. Wow, lots of great advice here Lily. I think it boils down to being aware of the situation – knowing yourself enough to balance your need to respond with the need to listen to the other person. Take notes if you have to, and take a deep breath before saying anything. You can so master this!

  16. I learned about this early on in my TV news reporting career. I was always so eager to ask the next question I was speaking over the end of someone’s previous answer.

    One thing I found true in that setting as well as with conflict, people often just want to know they’re being heard. Making a conscious decision to be a good listener and show them you’re paying attention to what they’re saying goes a long way.

    –Tony Gnau

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