4 Listening Best Practices That Will Make You a Great Listener

4 Listening Best Practices That Will Make You a Great Listener

It's not easy to be a world-class listener at first, but it is simple to get started. And soon, you'll be great at listening.

Dustin Hughes
Dustin Hughes
Content Specialist
4 Listening Best Practices That Will Make You a Great Listener

Do you want to improve your professional and personal life? Do you want to help other people do the same?

All you have to do is listen.

Being a great listener helps you connect with other people, learn what drives them and what they need, and can also teach you something about yourself. You'll also give other people the much-needed ear of someone who really cares.

It's not easy to be a world-class listener at first, but it is simple to get started. And soon, you'll be great at listening.

Here are some listening best practices:

1. Get Rid of Distractions

The most important thing you can do when listening to someone is to be present. This means more than being present physically. You need to be emotionally present. And that means distraction-free.

Modern life is full of distractions, most of them coming from the phone in your pocket. If your listening session is on your phone, give it your full attention.

If it's in person, do what it takes to avoid being distracted by your device. Put the phone in airplane mode, then put it in a desk drawer, or somewhere out of sight. It's too easy to mindlessly fumble with a phone and give the impression you'd rather be checking your emails than talking to the person you're with.

Make sure any radios or televisions are off, and if you have an open laptop or computer, put it to sleep.

To truly listen, you need to be present and focused.

2. Ask Questions and Talk When It's Appropriate

Most people think listening means shutting up and letting the other person talk. Yes, that's part of it. But listening isn't a one-way street. It's a two-way dialogue, the Harvard Business Review writes.

Don't be afraid to ask a clarifying question if you need help understanding what the other person is saying. It's important to understand someone truly listens to them. Rather than be annoyed at being asked questions, most people feel grateful that the listener is making the effort to truly understand the situation.

The Harvard Business Review also found that people felt encouraged when the listener gave suggestions. This might seem counterintuitive to the old wisdom that people would be put off by someone who gave suggestions in the middle of a listening session. Instead, it goes to illustrate that the listener really cares and wants to help.

A word of caution, though: While gentle suggestions are great. Trying to "fix the problem" isn't helpful. It's a fine line to walk, admittedly, so use care. The New York Times recommends keeping the acronym WAIT in mind. Ask yourself "Why Am I Talking?" Are you talking because you understand what they're saying and want to help, or to cast judgment or try to fix their problem for them.

At the end of the conversation, it can be appropriate to ask your follow-up questions and summarize what the person said to you, and make sure you've heard them correctly.

3. Listen With Your Eyes

In a face-to-face conversation, as much information can come from nonverbal communication as through spoken word. Don't gaze off into the distance, but focus on the other person's body language. It can be easy to zone out if you're not focusing visually on the person you're conversing with.

It's also helpful to give feedback non-verbally too. Nodding and keeping eye contact is a way to show you're listening and encourage the other person to continue.

4. Don't Judge, Don't Have an Agenda

Go into the conversation only with the goal of what the other person is saying. If you're judging what they're telling you, the person will be able to tell through your body language or other nonverbal cues. You also don't want to try to fit your agenda onto another person's problems.

The New York Times notes that listening is an act of empathy.

If you forget all the other listening best practices, keep this one in mind: Your number one job is to be empathetic. That's the best way to be a good listener.