5 Ways to be a Better Listener

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
In many of my coaching sessions, as well as in conversations with my family, I have noticed a common theme emerging and this is related to listening. Most of the time, people appear to practice poor listening skills which in turn hinders communication.

Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self. [DEAN JACKSON]

In many of my coaching sessions, as well as in conversations with my family, I have noticed a common theme emerging and this is related to listening. Most of the time, people appear to practice poor listening skills which in turn hinders communication.

A study of patients and doctors at the University of Rochester found that while patients were waiting to see their doctor they had an average of four questions that they wanted to ask. After their visit with the doctor, they had only managed to ask, on average, just one-and-a-half. Why? After about 18 seconds of listening to the patient, physicians interrupted and took over the rest of the conversation. And that pattern happens all too often at work, with the more powerful person talking, not listening. There are studies that show when two people talk, the more powerful person pays less attention than does the less powerful one. The person with the power looks at the other person less, interrupts more, and takes over the conversation. As  Becky Harling so aptly says …

 It’s impossible to be a good listener without developing a humble spirit. Think about it. When you’re listening and fully engaged, you allow the other person to have all the attention. Listening forces you to lay aside your agenda. It challenges you to let go of your need to share your opinions, theories, and assumptions in favor of listening to another’s feelings, thoughts, and sentiments. That decision can only come from a heart of humility.

Think about how often, when one person is speaking, someone else then jumps in with a story of their own – or maybe it is you that does that. I know I am guilty of this sometimes. So often we listen just enough to then start formulating our own answer or response. When we do this, we have effectively stopped listening to the other person and this often leads to miscommunication and often conflict as we jump to conclusions without properly understanding the other person. Remember, communication has only taken place effectively when the message has been understood. If we want to be better and more effective leaders, parents, or people we need to become better listeners.

I’d like to share some tips help you improve your listening skills and enable more effective communication:

1. Be present

Focus on the person and ignore your cell phone, turn away from your screens, turn off your inner monologue and pay full attention to the person in front of you.

2. Let people finish speaking and say what they need to.

This means not cutting them off or interrupting. Give them the airtime that they need.

3. Use reflective listening

To ensure understanding and to gain more clarity, repeat back in your own words what you have heard the other person saying. This is effective to use in avoiding conflict as so often the person hasn’t heard the message in the way it was intended. Let them clarify, until you get it right as this enables the person to get an understanding of how you have heard and understood their message.

4. Validate the other person’s feelings

When you do this, especially in high emotional situations, you are acknowledging that their feelings are important – it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them. The ability to validate your own and others emotions is really important. We don’t need to be afraid of conflict – just how we handle it. It is a potential growth opportunity to understand an opposing viewpoint whilst still expressing what you think. By expressing your thoughts and feelings, it shouldn’t make the other person feel less, so be mindful of how you express it. Remember that how we say something often carries more importance than what we say.

5. Listen without judgment

Rather switch to curiosity: you may be surprised at what you hear, even from people you may not like. We also tend to want to fix other people’s problems or tell them what to do. When we tell people what to do, we are undermining them and their ability to fix their own problems, rather do as Becky Harling suggests:

Don’t tell people what to do; ask them questions … you gain greater insight, they gain greater self-awareness, and the two of you grow closer. When we dare to ask someone what they want, we give them the opportunity to verbalize their need. The best questions allow people to explore what’s in their hearts.

One of my greatest growth opportunities when I started coaching was to learn to ask open questions and not give my solutions or answers, but rather guide the person to make their own decisions. That is why one of my favorite EQ tools is the Six Seconds TFA Cards as this enables people to practice self-science as they put the 3parts of the EQ in Action model into play: namely Self-Awareness (Know yourself); understanding what you are feeling, thinking and how you are behaving; then practicing self-management (Choose yourself) by looking at your options and making choices, and then finally the motivation for the decision that you take – your Why (Give yourself).


Try these 5 quick tips for great listening skills


  1. Look at the speaker while they’re speaking.
  2. Keep quiet while the other person is speaking.
  3. Listen to what he or she is saying.
  4. Repeat back what they say.
  5. Check to make sure the message is correct.

Enjoy practicing your listening skills and feel free to email your comments or questions to me at avril@eqinaction.co.za, or in a post on my Facebook page. Remember, communication is key to successful relationships and active listening is key to communication!