developing and improving your listening skills


Power Up Your Communication Through Listening
by Anthony Mullins
elite coaching alliance

“Every person in life has something to teach me and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening.” --John Lahr

The differences between hearing and listening can be as different as black and white. In our personal lives, ineffective listening isolates people we care about, and invalidates those around us. In a professional environment, ineffective listening involving our clients, staff, and peers leads to failure. On the other hand, developing the skills of a powerful listener can build a bridge to success.

Why is it so important to be heard? It’s simple really. Everyone wants to feel respected, important and valued. We want to feel that we are making a difference. Being heard is empowering. Do you ever notice the amount of talking children do and how difficult it is for them to listen? Why is this? Children feel that in order to get attention, talking is required. I believe that this is an inherent misconception that prevents us as adults from becoming powerful and effective listeners. 

“Listening effectively to others can be the most fundamental and powerful communication tool of all. When someone is willing to stop talking or thinking and begin truly listening to others, all of their interactions become easier, and communication problems are all but eliminated.” — Ken Johnson

Listening is more than just hearing or waiting until the other person stops talking so that you can talk. It’s more than listening long enough for you to determine a response. Many times listening failures occur because of the difficulty of staying in the present. The principles of powerful listening are about focusing or “tuning in” to what is being said. 

What types of indicators are there that we are not “committed” to the conversation? Eyes wander; other thoughts enter our mind; people doodle. Find a doodler and you will find a distracted or inactive listener. Simply put, they are uninterested in the conversation. 

“The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.” –Richard Moss

There are specific skills or techniques that must be developed in order for you to become a great listener. In order to achieve success through listening, you must:

• Listen with focus: Offer the speaker your undivided attention. Don’t speak or interrupt the speaker. Look for “invited opportunities” to respond. Do everything you can to eliminate distractions and look the speaker in the eye. A wandering eye is an obvious symptom of disinterest.

• Be interested and non-judgmental: Your judgments and opinions can impair your ability to be a successful listener. Allowing others the ability to express themselves in a non-judgmental environment is important for having honest conversation. The speaker will feel comfortable and share more with you. Respond with interest during your listening. Use words such as “I see”, “I understand”, or even “Hmmm”. These simple and non-interrupting responses show your interest in the conversation.

• Ask thought provoking and open ended questions: Refrain from closed-ended questions. People enjoy talking about themselves. Ask good, simple, and personal questions and people will gladly accept your invitation to conversation. Ask them what they do, where they are from or about their family. These simple questions will invite others to share with you and you can sharpen your listening skills.

• Paraphrase: Verify what you are hearing by repeating things back in your own words. When you can repeat what the speaker has said, it shows the speaker that you were actively involved and listening. The speaker will feel respected and begin to feel a greater connection to you. 

Now that you have the tools, put them to the test.
Ask your spouse or a colleague to join you for this exercise. Designate one person to be the speaker. At first, the speaker should talk about easy and neutral topics. The speaker should utilize “I” statements and speak only of themselves. The sentences should be short. An example of this might be, “I am really tired of all the leaves falling in my yard. I can’t keep up with them. I can’t wait for spring.”

After having heard the message, the listener attempts to repeat in his or her own words what he or she heard. The listener is not to agree, disagree, explain, or make any personal contribution to the statement or statements that were heard. The listener should paraphrase and try to explain what was heard. You might also ask for confirmation of your understanding. An example might be, "What I heard you say is… Is this correct?" The speaker should simply acknowledge that the message was returned accurately, or if not, repeat the process until it comes back as acceptable.

Continue this for a few short topics. Once you get comfortable, trade roles. As your listening skills improve and your communication strengthens, you will progress into much more difficult topics.

Finally, not only should you recognize the value of listening, but you should also understand the “listening needs” of the speaker. Many times the greatest value of listening is simply allowing the desire to be heard, “to vent” if you will. I have found most of the miscommunication that I have with others is a product of my misconceptions. I am a “fixer” by nature. If confronted with an issue, I immediately begin seeking a solution. This is a mistake. When I dive-in to solve a problem without listening, not only do I fail to collect all the possible information, but also fail to offer my best response to the situation. 

“Much silence makes a powerful noise.”—African Proverb
One of the greatest gifts you can give another is your attention - to listen. Make a commitment to be a powerful listener and soon you will experience communication like never before. Everyone wants to be heard, understood, respected and loved. A great many choose to talk and very few choose to listen. Take the time to listen and work to develop your listening skills. If you become a better listener, you will become a better communicator.

Copyright Elite Coaching Alliance 2005

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developing and improving your listening skills


developing and improving your listening skills