The Art of Listening


Communication to a Relationship is Like Oxygen to Life – Without it…it Dies 

Tony Gaskins

A lot of people don’t realize this but listening is the most important part of communicating. Listening is not the same as simply hearing. When you listen to someone speak, you are engaged with them, and making an effort to understand exactly what they are trying to say. Listening is a crucial skill in the workplace. When people don’t listen to each other, the entire communication process breaks down. In order to be an effective communicator you must first learn to be a good listener.

Have you ever played the “telephone game?” The way it works is one person whispers a word or phrase to another person, who whispers it to the next person and so on, until it gets back to the original person. In most cases by the time the phrase gets back to the beginning, it has changed from the original phrase. Somewhere along the way, someone misheard what was said, and passed the wrong word or phrase on to the next person. So what caused the wrong message to be heard, and how can we keep this same mistake from happening in the workplace?

The telephone game goes to show you that there is a difference between simply hearing and listening. We use our sense of hearing every day. When people speak to us, we hear them talking. We hear music on the radio, and we hear the birds chirping when we walk outside. So then, what does it mean to listen?


Here are five tips for listening in the workplace:

Focus on the person speaking. How many times have you “listened” to someone, only to have no idea what he said by the time he finish speaking? You heard him talking, but you didn’t listen to what was said. This happens because you were distracted by something, which kept you from really hearing what was said. Maybe it was someone else in the room, or perhaps it was your own thoughts that kept you from focusing.

In order to really listen, you need to focus on people when they are speaking and try to understand what they are saying. Look at the person who is speaking, whether the person is talking only to you or to you and 100 other people. If you are having a conversation with one other person, make eye contact with the person as you listen. If you notice your mind wandering or your eyes moving away from the speaker, force yourself to bring your attention back to the speaker.

Make sure you understand. Sometimes, no matter how well you listen, you just can’t quite understand what is said. Maybe the speaker used a word that you don’t know the meaning of or is talking about a topic that you don’t understand. For whatever reason, the speaker finishes talking and you still don’t quite understand what was said. It’s important to recognize when you don’t understand what was said and then ask the speaker to explain what she meant.

Wait for your turn to speak. When listening to people speak, let them finish talking before responding to what they have said. It is impolite to interrupt someone, or talk before the person is finished talking. It is also distracting and could cause them to forget what they were going to say. If you think of something you want to say while a person is talking, save your question or comment until they are done. If you are in a meeting or lecture where the speaker will be talking for a long time, it is a good idea to write down your comment or question and save it for the end.


Show interest. When having a conversation, try to show the person who is talking that you are interested in what they are saying. When you fail to show interest while listening, it is distracting to the person speaking. Instead of focusing on what they want to say, they will wonder whether or not you’re paying attention.

Not only is it respectful to show interest when someone is talking to you, but it also helps you to focus on what is being said. Here are a few ways to show interest while someone is talking to you:

  • Nod your head to show you understand
  • Make eye contact
  • Respond by changing the look on your face
  • Respond by talking

Repeat what was said in your own words. Even if you think you understood what was said, it’s important to rephrase, or repeat what was said out loud and in your own words. Repeating it in your own words forces you to put thought into what was said. This will help you to better understand the message and will help make it stick in your mind. It also gives the speaker a chance to correct you if you heard wrong or didn’t quite understand the message.

Want to learn more about how this all comes together? Try our free course on attitude with Conover Resources.

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By |2017-04-30T16:18:20+00:00May 13th, 2016|Soft Skills|1 Comment

About the Author:

Terry Schmitz is the founder and owner of The Conover Company. Terry has been involved in the development of assessments for both education and corporations for over 30 years. He has developed hundreds of job-specific assessment systems that link to skill building systems.

One Comment

  1. Ron Krumpos August 24, 2016 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    While student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961, I became friends with Carl Rogers, who was as one of the leading psychotherapists of the 20th century. He taught me much about the art of listening.

    Dr. Rogers said that when we listen, and people know we are listening, it shows we truly care about them. In turn, they will respond by caring about you. It opens communication and also opens hearts. When we accept them as a person, unconditionally, they will be more kind to you.

    We should listen without preconceptions, without anticipation and without judgement if we want others to portray what they truly feel. We listen with all our senses, not just to the words which are said. Some people cannot fully express themselves while speaking, so we must try to see them as they see themselves. We should watch for non-verbal clues as to what they really mean: facial expressions, body movements, etc.

    While we should show positive regard for the other person, we should also demonstrate our own positive self-regard. We do not react to their negative comments, verbally or physically, even when we disagree with them. When they do ask for our opinion, however, we should respond with our true thoughts and in specifics rather than generalities. We offer our own perspective as other options rather than as contradiction.

    Listening might seem quite passive as opposed to speaking. It is actually very active. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, “I learn while listening. When I talk I don’t learn too much.” If you think talking helps to spread your own wisdom, you are not really wise.

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