What makes a good listener?


There are a thousand and one training courses available to us that will teach us the many skills required of a good listener. All will no doubt be full of good stuff and they are often combined with other forms of outgoing communication skills such as use of words, pace, pitch, tone and of course body language etc. However, this piece will focus purely on listening as a skill or indeed a craft and assess whether everything that we have been taught is actually being put into practise. As evidence would seem to suggest that the nature of listening appears to be slowly changing in its very essence.


Let’s say that you had just been on a listening skills training programme and so were fully conversant with the skills and techniques required to be a supreme listener. It would be interesting to note what results you would see if you then paid close attention to the behaviour and attitude of your colleagues and circle of friends as to how many actually observe the key rules of listening as you have recently been taught.


Our world today is full of distractions and interruptions and even the best of us fall foul of trying to multi-task when we should just be listening to what is being said to us. It is very easy to fall into the trap of claiming that you are listening whilst it’s obvious that you are in fact checking you Facebook page whilst asserting “go on I’m listening” to the person talking.


Is it too much of an exaggeration to claim that the words of George Orwell in his classic dystopian novel 1984 are relevant here where asserted that, “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.” When you consider that this was written in 1949 it’s a little scary just how much truth there is in that one line, especially as this reluctance to leave the screen alone seems to be all around us.


How many times have you sat in a bar or restaurant and watched a couple at a table not actually talking to each other, but rather, glued to their smart phones? We see it all the time and of course I’m sure that we all think the same thing ‘isn’t it sad, look, they aren’t even talking to each other, I’d never do that’. No of course you wouldn’t.


It’s hard enough to determine the difference between hearing something and actually really listening to what is being said. Let alone then have to cope with the distraction of using a smart phone and having your face planted in a screen at the same time.


When we examine just the headline skills of listening, which are; hearing, interpreting, evaluating and then responding it is a challenge to do all of these things in a manner that would suggest to the other person that you are hearing them loud and clear and have understood what has been said without the distraction of doing something else at the same time.


Quite apart from the fact that it may be construed as simply rude that you are doing something else whilst someone is talking to you, by showing and demonstrating through your physical actions that you are actually listening, you fill the other person with the confidence that you have heard them and also have treated them with the respect that they deserve.


Making good eye contact, nodding at the appropriate moment or gesturing at the right time all contribute to helping a person understand that they have your 100% attention. Whilst this is great and would be much appreciated by the recipient it is also you being reactionary to what the other person is doing and saying in your direction and there is more to being a good listener than simply nodding agreement or delight with the incoming information your ears are receiving.


Once you have mastered the art of looking like you are listening, to be a really supreme listener, another simple technique to demonstrate your skill further is to (at the appropriate moment) ask relevant questions about what the other person has just said. It’s even more impressive if you ask about something they may have said right at the top of the conversation piece with you as this will show just how you have listened to all that they have said and not just the last sentence.


Of course there is much more to being an expert listener than simply ‘asking back’ and at Maguire we deliver many different courses and programmes that deal with good listening skills. You can find out more by viewing those courses on our website, a good start would be:


Powerful Communication Skills


Finally, in his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ Dale Carnegie talks of really listening to what others are saying and suggests “The royal road to a person’s heart it to talk about the things he or she treasures most”.


What he’s saying is that when you walk away from a conversation with someone who hasn’t bothered to look up from their screen during the conversation, or the subject matter turns into it being all about them and they haven’t asked you a single question about the subject you went to talk to them about… well it’s not the most satisfying of transactions.

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