7 Ways To Become An Active Listener


“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
~Epictetus

Do you know the secret to a better marriage? Do you know the best way to connect with your children? Do you know what will make your friends know that you are there for them and you really care? What is this magic solution?

It’s listening! Listening is an essential part of communication that we often take for granted.

I’m often guilty of not listening. My head is somewhere else, thinking about my shopping list, what I forgot to do on my website, preschool…

Are the rest of us good listeners? Apparently not. At Mind Tools I read that “depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation.” We are definitely heading in the wrong direction if this is true!

In the above picture, you see the Chinese symbol, “Ting”, representing the verb “to listen”. There are 5 elements that make up the symbol. It breaks down like this:

• Ear – We need ears to listen.

• Eye – The non-listener looks elsewhere. The listener makes eye contact.

• Heart – Effective listening involves understanding the underlying emotions in the speaker.

• Undivided Attention – Active listeners focus their attention on the person that is speaking.

• King – True listening treats the other person as someone who is important.

So, how to do you start to actively listen?

1. First of all, give your full attention. Look at the person in the eyes.

2. Ask meaningful questions. I sometimes come up with some questions before I go places since I have trouble with small talk. For instance, I like to ask where someone grew up or how a couple met each other.

3. Don’t be somewhere else in your mind while you listen. It’s obvious when someone isn’t interested in what you’re saying. So don’t plan your shopping list or think of what you’re going to say next while someone is talking.

4. Don’t answer your cell phone, especially if you’re talking to your kids. I know sometimes you have to answer. But try to put it on silent ring. I see many mothers pick up their kids and stay on the phone as they walk to their car. This is an important time to hear about your child’s day.

5. Mirror the person’s body language.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re having a great conversation, you and the speaker unconsciously mirror each others body language? This behavior tells the speaker that you’re on the same page.

6. Use encouraging words.
Say words like “Go on” and “I agree” or “How interesting!”

7. Don’t interrupt!
I’m very guilty of this as I come from a family that all talks at the same time. (My mother calls this singing in harmony.) But active listening involves not putting words into others mouths or stopping them to put in your two cents.

And then there is being a good example for your children. They will do as you do and become active listeners if you model this good behavior.

“Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf… “
~ Native American Proverb

Active listening is a skill. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Active listening requires practice and thought. Active listening is engaging and will make the people in your life much happier.

What if the person you’re talking to doesn’t want to be an active listener for you? Then follow Winnie the Pooh’s advice:

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
~Winnie the Pooh (Milne)

** Dog picture from Natural Horse Lovers and Picture credit and reference for meaning of symbol:
The 30 Inch View, Posted by Kent Hatcher.

This entry was posted in Changing Ourselves, Parenting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to 7 Ways To Become An Active Listener

  1. sheila says:

    :) I love the “singing in harmony” thing your mom says, lol! That’s cute. I also love the Winnie the Pooh quote. Love that little guy. If the world were run by Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss we’d be in better shape, lol.

    All these are wonderful tips! In fact, I know SO many bad listeners that I might just print this off and pass this out.

    Listening is something that needs to be practiced, that’s for sure. It’s probably one of those things a person might have to practice daily. I know that being a good listener is good for the person using the ear AND the person using the mouth. Listening is a very beneficial trait.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Sheila,
    I agree about daily practice! I find that I’m sometimes not listening but don’t even realize it until I’ve missed something. It is something you have to be very aware of!!

    [Reply]

  2. This is a great topic Betsy. When someone really listens to you it affects you deeply. You’re able to get out everything you want to say without feeling judged – and that’s huge. Part of being a good intuitive is to listen deeply without judgement. When we tune into that part of us we will hear not only what the person is telling us but what they are truly feeling. It’s a beautiful exchange. Thank you for making us aware of how important listening skills are in all relationships.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Listening does affect you deeply! Listening without judgement can be very difficult because we’re all human. Judging is natural. So to listen without judgement is a gift! Thank you for that point!!

    [Reply]

  3. Vidya Sury says:

    Betsy, I think we’d all benefit from printing this and putting it up in a prominent place. With the wonderfully apt quotes you’ve chosen in bold. So often we have to remind ourselves to not just hear, but actively listen. During my career in sales/marketing training, this was one of the major topics I covered – and each session was a learning process.

    So good to know you’re taking the NaNoWriMo challenge. Your book’s going to be a bestseller! I am being a rebel and doing non-fiction now. But I am hoping that I’ll be inspired to tell a story as well.

    Thank you for a beautiful post.

    (The comment form didn’t work for me in the morning when I tried)

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Vidya,
    You and I have the quote love in common, don’t we? I’m not doing very well with the challenge as I’ve been doing a lot with my family this past week. But I”ll get back to it. Don’t worry about non-fiction. I think it’s the writing that’s important!

    [Reply]

  4. damir says:

    Hey Zen Mama,

    I agree, listening is one of the skills that many people think they have. If they would really posses powers of active listening, maybe thay would be able to worry less.

    Cheers,

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Damir,
    Worrying less is a big part of my blog, too! Thanks so much for stopping by!!

    [Reply]

  5. Jen says:

    Betsy,
    THANK YOU! I love the Chinese symbol and I have never heard the “king” one before. This is such a valuable reminder, as a mom, a life coach, and in all my relationships.

    In this day and age we tend to multi-task so much. This includes when we should be listening actively to who we are engaging in conversation with. I will make the conscious effort to listen fully and deliberately TODAY and TOMORROW.

    Thank you, as always, for your great insight!
    Love,
    Jen

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Jen,
    Glad you liked that symbol. That’s one of the ideas that motivated me to write this post. The multi-tasking is very much part of the problems. Thanks for that good point!
    I’ve been trying all week to listen better. It’s one of my new goals!

    [Reply]

  6. Jimmy says:

    Hi Betsy,

    I really like the Chinese character for listening which sums up the art of listening well. My biggest thought here is that the ability to treat your opposite party like a king while listening is the most important. The others on ear, eye, heart are skills that can be picked up with training. But valuing the presence of someone calls for something special.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Jimmy,
    Isn’t that the greatest symbol? Great point of the value of a person being the most important part. You are so right!!

    [Reply]

  7. Lance says:

    Betsy,
    I really believe listening is so important – and so, reading this today is a real gift. It is, because I know, too, that I can all too easily slip up with my listening skills. And with wonderful reminders like this – it’s back in the forefront again (thank you!).

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks Lance! Glad you enjoyed! I needed the reminder myself which is why I wrote the post!! :)

    [Reply]

  8. Hi Betsy,
    I think I’ll be working on being a better listener until the day I die! I think it was the most difficult when my four girls were all teenagers. I also like to say, “Tell me more.” And ya gotta love the Pooh quote! Oh and one more thing if we want to know how good of a listener we are we only have to ask our children no matter what the age;)

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Tess,
    I have so much to say that it’s hard for me to be quiet and really listen without thinking of what I’m going to say next! And yes, I know exactly what my children would say…. I think :)

    [Reply]

  9. JennyBean says:

    Betsy, somehow I know you’re a good listener. What a great topic to write on. Good listeners are rare!

    XOXO

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Jenny,
    I can be when I try! But I’m also good at interrupting! But I’m working on it!!! :)

    [Reply]

  10. Pingback: The Art of Conversation With Your Family | The Zen Mama's Blog

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