Listening, really hearing what someone else is saying, is a skill. Why are listening skills so important? Listening skills are critical to many aspects of managerial work including interviewing for open positions, coaching and counseling, gathering data, customer service, working effectively with others, performance management, and so forth.

Many, if not most, people tend to have an inner monologue going on when they are ‘listening’. This may be a disagreement with what is being said, preparing the answer, or worrying about something else entirely. Not effective, but common.


Think for a moment about a person you worked for who was not a good listener. Try to clearly see in your mind’s eye what happened in a discussion. What made the person a poor listener? What did s/he do or say that communicated the message “I’m not really listening” or “I don’t really care about your ideas”.

Now think about how you felt. What effects did the poor listening skills of the person have on you?


What are the benefits you can derive from good listening skills? Here are some:

  • You show the person that you are interested in and concerned about their needs and interests, not just your own. This is especially useful in interviewing job candidates, counseling, and customer interviews.
  • You find out why an individual did what they did, how they made their choices or decisions, and attained or missed goals. This is useful in resolving problems, coaching, and job interviews.
  • You give the person an opportunity to be heard and feel understood so that they will reveal much more information.

These tips are designed to help you learn more about listening effectively. Good listening skills can be acquired with practice. They provide real benefits in your professional and personal life. But, listening well is hard work. And, it takes practice.

There are three different types of listening skills that you can learn and improve most easily to achieve the benefits of good listening. These are:

  • Attending behavior is the term used for non-verbal signals that communicate to others that you are paying attention and are interested in them. These include eye contact, posture, facial expression, movement and similar “body language”.
  • Requests for information are verbal techniques designed to get people talking and to keep them talking. These include various types of questions and vocal sounds.
  • Expressions of understanding are ways to make sure you have correctly heard the other person and to show that you understand the person.

Today’s tips have to do with attending behavior. Watch for columns on requests for information and expressions of understanding.



The importance of attention from others is well recognized by psychologists – and the average parent! Infants need almost constant attention to thrive and grow. Children and adults will do almost anything to get attention. And, if the only way to get attention is to act badly, most people will do so since negative attention is still much better than none.

Attending, which is a term for the process of paying attention, has three simple elements:

  • Making eye contact
  • Using good body language
  • Minimizing distractions

All these are influenced by culture and you should be sensitive to possible differences when talking to someone from another cultural background.

Tip 1. Eye Contact

Have you ever tried to talk to someone who would not look directly at you and realized how difficult it was to keep talking? Did you wonder if there was something wrong? This is why eye contact is also important to listening. Yet many people do not maintain eye contact when they are listening. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t stare directly at the person’s eyes for long periods but do keep your eyes on their face most of the time.
  • When breaking eye contact, don’t dart your eyes around rapidly. This suggests tension or boredom and reduces the other person’s responsiveness.
  • Don’t let your eyes betray negative thoughts or reactions. A squint or a roll of the eyes conveys suspicion to many people.
  • Try to maintain eye contact about 70-75% of the time for comfort on both sides. Note: women tend to maintain more eye contact than men do.

Tip 2. Good body language

Body language is simply the way you use your physical body to let people know your responses to them. Although there are books on this subject, here is a brief review of four important aspects.

  • Body positioning: when listening place yourself so that your head and upper torso are directly facing the other person.
  • Nodding: nod your head periodically to signify that you are hearing and understanding. A nod combined with a vocal signal like “uhm-hmm” or “I see” is very natural –but can be learned in front of a mirror if they are not natural to your style.
  • Using facial muscles: learn to look interested and others will talk to you more willingly. A “poker face” communicates disinterest or boredom.
  • Body movement: use your upper body and arms so that you look relaxed but are tilted slightly toward the person to convey interest and acceptance. Leaning away communicates less interest. Rigid or crossed arms can add tension.

Tip 3. Minimizing Distractions

Most distractions can be avoided if you want to. An effective listener works to reduce both external distractions and personal habits which may be distracting. Good listening requires concentration and focus. Block electronic distractions, clear your mind of distractions. Don’t use this time to get other things done. If there is a valid reason which makes an interruption likely, warn the person/others in a meeting in advance – “I am expecting a critical call from a customer and may have to take a few moments to deal with it”.

You can successfully learn to listen well to others. And that will redound to your success!