How to Be a Better Listener

Up to 80% of our waking day is spent communicating in some way, and 45% of that involves listening to other people. Yet, it is estimated that we retain only 25% of any given conversation.

To make matters worse, we forget nearly 50% of what little was retained within eight hours. Some of this forgetfulness can be attributed to the way our brains process information. But the larger fact remains: Most of us are really bad at listening.

The good news is that being a good listener is a skill that can be learned. We can support one another by creating space where those we care about can voice fears and concerns, brainstorm ideas and set new goals, helping each other throughout our journey of growth, discovery and healthy longevity. On a larger level, with a little training, we can listen for what motivates and lights up the people around us —their passions, interests and skills, and utilize those talents to build strong social connections and an inclusive community. Imagine the possibilities of a community where everyone involved is bringing their best selves to work and life on a daily basis and making valuable contributions to the whole. The benefits of this balanced ecosystem all begin with learning how to listen, listening to truly understand.

Four Tips for Better Listening

The beauty of listening is that you don’t have to acquire special credentials to “qualify” to be a good listener. Just start practicing these four basic tips today.

  1. Ask powerful, open-ended questions and then be fully present as you listen to the replies. These types of questions come from a place of curiosity and interest in your conversation partner. Some examples of powerful questions include:
    • “What do you want most for yourself at this time in your life?”
    • “In what way are your values in line with your current goals?” (Or, “how are they out of line?”)
    • “How can I support you in moving forward with this goal?”
    • “What makes this pursuit meaningful to you?”
  2. Be mindful and avoid distractions. Put your phone aside and create a quiet space for communication. Silence the mental chatter about other events that might be circulating in your brain. Adopting a regular mindfulness or meditation practice can help you create this kind of focus.
  3. Don’t plan your next question or how you will respond. Just listen. I find it helpful to jot down a word or two as someone is speaking to help retain what I’ve heard.
  4. Practice non-judgment. For someone to honestly and authentically express wants and needs, they need to trust that you have their back and their best interest at heart.

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