Become a Better Listener in 10 Minutes

Want to advance in your career, enhance your professional reputation, or just have more meaningful relationships? Listen up. One of the most powerful—and underappreciated—interpersonal skills is being a great listener.

The key to great listening is to listen empathetically. Unlike the other two types of listeners—the indifferent listener (he’s ignoring you) and the part-time listener (she’s trying to listen but gets distracted easily)—the empathetic listener is someone people like, respect and want to spend time with.
Why do people like empathetic listeners more than other types of people? Because the empathetic listener always pays close attention to all aspects of the speaker’s message—words, tone of voice and body language. In doing so, she sends a constant set of signals that she’s interested in what the speaker is saying.

So, how do you become an empathetic listener? Develop these habits:

1.    Show interest with body language
Staring at the other person while she talks is not enough to show you’re engaged in the conversation. Make eye contact, nod appropriately, and use good-listener phrases such as, "Right," or "I agree," or, "Really?"

2.    Restate or paraphrase
Periodically respond to the speaker’s basic message by putting his point in your own words. For example, "So, what you’re saying is…" or, "If I’m hearing you correctly…." This shows the speaker you’re paying attention and gives you a chance to reinforce the message for yourself by hearing it in your own voice.

3.    Summarize
State the main thrust of the speaker’s statements: "So, you think you’ve got to call him back and try again." This demonstrates you’ve been paying attention and strengthens your own understanding and memory of the conversation.

4.    Interpret
Offer your own take on what the speaker has said—such as, "This is really bothering you, isn’t it?" You’ll show you’ve heard not only the speaker’s words but also his thoughts and feelings. This is the essence of empathetic listening, and it can really help you connect with someone and enhance the conversation.

5.    Probe
If you’re not sure about a point the speaker is making, ask a clarifying question to get more information or to get the speaker to restate the point. "Can you give me an example of what you mean?" This shows not only that you’re listening but also that you care enough to make the effort to understand the speaker’s points.

6.    Stay quiet
Allow the speaker time to think as well as talk. If she pauses while trying to think of a word or a point, give her time. This demonstrates that you’re not growing impatient and also shows respect for the speaker—which will greatly enhance her enjoyment of the conversation.
Here are some common listening problems and tips to overcome them by listening empathetically:

In meetings, your mind drifts, and soon you realize you’ve missed several minutes of the conversation and are now totally lost.
Why this happens
Your mind wants to focus on other things. While the average person speaks at 150 words per minute, he can listen at 600 words per minute. So it’s understandable that our mind has a hard time focusing when other people talk.

If your mind starts wandering, change your body position. Slouching? Sit up. Leaning back? Move forward. Turn toward the speaker. Your active listening skills will come back into play. Also, ask a question to get yourself back on track—such as, "Can you explain that a little further?" People will naturally repeat a lot of what they stated.

When you’re introduced to new people, you forget their names right away.
Why this happens

You store a vast amount of information in your mind: phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, ATM codes. So you can store a single name for a few seconds. What’s probably happening is: you’re not listening. As you go to shake the person’s hand, you’re noticing his shirt, thinking of what to say next—and you never actually hear a name.

When you’re introduced to someone, shut out all thoughts and listen for the name. Make a point of repeating it out loud immediately. You hear, "I’m Joseph," and as you shake hands you say, "Nice to meet you, Joseph." Then take just a fraction of a second, concentrate fully on the person’s face, and think to yourself, "Joseph." You’ll never forget it again.


About the Author

Robbie Hyman is a professional communications and public affairs writer. He has 15 years’ experience writing for nonprofits, small business and multibillion-dollar international organizations and is available as a freelance writer for federal agencies.

Robbie has written thousands of pages of content, including white papers, speeches, published articles, reports, manuals, newsletters, video scripts, advertisements, technical document and other materials. He is also co-founder of, an online course that teaches smart money habits to teenagers.