Tips to better listening skills

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We recently went out with another married couple, and the wife mentioned that she printed my tip on the importance of listening and taped it to the fridge for her husband to read! His response was to turn to the server and call out, “Cheque please!”

You can read the offending post here:

Then I had to confess that, although I wrote the tip, I’m a pretty terrible listener too. I’d far rather talk than listen. With that duly confessed, the tips that follow are to me, and maybe to you too:

Set aside a time to listen

Go for lunch, sit at a table, walk around the block. But make a time when you’re going to give someone the dignity of listening to them well. A most uncommon gift. Almost never happens. When is the last time someone gave you their full attention and listened to you closely?

Eliminate distractions

Put your phone away. Turn it over, put it on silent, but don’t let it interrupt your conversation. Sit with your back to the coffee shop if you can’t resist catching people’s eyes or seeing what exciting operation the barista is engaged in. Time block it in your calendar if necessary.

Use listening body language

This includes leaning in, not out, nodding when appropriate (not bobbling your head up and down like a fishing lure) and saying things to let them know you’re tracking. “Oh,” and ‘Uh huh” are good words here. A big plus is that these are words that even I can remember and pronounce properly too. Uncross your arms so you don’t look defensive. Look them in the eye as they talk. Smile.

Ask clarifying questions

Beginning by asking, not talking, is a huge start. As the old sales saw goes, “Selling is not telling.” Good selling is asking the right questions. Some of my favorite conversation enhancers include:

  1. What are the bright spots (in life, in work, in your role, with that customer, in our relationship etc).
  2. What could be better?
  3. Can you expand on that?
  4. Tell me more about that.
  5. Help me understand…
  6. Would you mind elaborating on that?
  7. Do I hear you saying ____________ ?

Make your questions open ended and encourage them to talk more. Thank them for sharing.

Don’t interrupt

So hard. You have so much to add. Your extra 2 cents worth of unasked for and unwanted advice would get them across the goal line and fix their problems AND end the meeting quicker. You know it. Only it won’t be effective. They need to empty out before they can take in. Think of the person as a full glass of water. Until some of the water is emptied out, you can’t pour any more in the cup. So let them talk and empty out for a bit. You’ll get your turn to talk in time.

Ask for next steps

What do they think should happen next? A shift in responsibilities? A change in behavior by them or you? Another meeting in the future? Nothing? What?

Next time you sit down, begin by asking a question and showing genuine interest in the answer. You’ll be amazed at what a great and scintillating conversationalist others think you’ve become when you say nothing else.

Getting ahead is about getting started.

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Written by Trevor Throness
Trevor is a veteran coach, keynote speaker, and the author of the book “The Power of People Skills” released by Career Press NY in 2017. He’s also written for or been featured in places like Forbes, Inc, The NY Post, The Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur, CEO Magazine, and numerous podcasts and interviews.


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