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Guidelines for Listening

While striving to be good at speaking, we can slight an important communication tool — listening. Being articulate as a speaker is certainly an accomplishment, but listening can be as challenging as speaking or even more so. Here are a few tips that are good to remember:

  • Look interested and alert. Concentrate all your energies on listening. The more interested and focused you are, the more animated and interesting the speaker will become.
  • Minimize distractions. Don't let your cell phone or Blackberry shut down an important conversation. Be aware of what can distract you and eliminate it, shut it off, or get out of its reach.
  • Be patient and do not interrupt. However tempting, don't ask questions or interrupt before the speaker has finished.
  • Keep up with the speaker's flow of ideas. Try not to get sidetracked or stuck on one idea.
  • Provide clear feedback to show you are listening. This is done through non-verbal signals such as nodding, agreeing (e.g., "I see," "uh-huh") and encouraging (e.g., "go on," "tell me a bit more about that").
  • Identify with the central issue. Isolate the main points to yourself, summarize, and build up a portrait of the person and what is being said.
  • Avoid labeling, judgment, or evaluation until you have heard the whole story. Stop yourself if you feel the tendency to pre-judge any of the characters or actions before you've heard everything. Stories have a way of taking twists and turns we couldn't have imagined - only the speaker can tell us with accuracy.
  • Analyze and reflect back what you have heard. You can paraphrase or restate what the person said, clarify your understanding by asking questions, or simply state your interpretation of what you have heard.

Always summarize the key points of the conversation at the end and ask the speaker whether he or she agrees. Sometimes it can be useful to ask the speaker to summarize what has been said.

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