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Workplace Communication Part 2 of 7: Effective Listening

Updated on March 15, 2012
Think calm to communicate.
Think calm to communicate. | Source

“The reason that we have two ears and one mouthis that we may listen the more and talk the less." Zeno, Greek Philosopher

Our mind works five to seven times faster than our mouths. Often, we are so far ahead of the speaker, that we end up on a mental excursion so we don’t even hear, much less listen. A hurried workplace aggravates this situation. We may feel that we don’t have time to listen to others. The cost of poor listening is staggering – rework, missed deadlines, poor employee relations, lost sales, and compromised customer relations.


  • Listening ability is related to the intelligence of the listener. Research indicates the relationship is very slight.
  • Daily use of listening eliminates the need for special training. Listening is a learned skill.
  • Improving reading ability also improves listening ability. Research indicates there is no relationship between reading ability per se and listening ability.
  • Listening is easy. This is probably the biggest misconception about listening. Most people believe they are listening, when, in fact they are not, or at least are doing so minimally or ineffectively. It requires the focus of attention, a desire to really understand another person, and putting aside one's own agenda.


Effective listening doesn't just happen. It takes work and diligence to improve. We give lip service to the importance of listening to others but in practice we do not live in a society where people actually listen very well. There are many reasons for this, including inadequate effort to teach people about listening and how to do it, and a tendency for many of us to be more interested in talking than in listening. So, naturally, there are many barriers and bad habits to address.

Being and remaining preoccupied then not listening.

  • Look at the person speaking, eye contact is best. If on the phone, do not look at items that will draw your attention.
  • Keep your hands free, unless you are writing down what is being said.
  • Practice listening to radio, news, reading articles that are uninteresting to you to counteract lazy listening habits.
  • Listening is not the time to multitask, practice focus.

Being so interested and focused on your own desire to speak or rebut that you listen mainly to find an opening to get the floor.

  • Write notes for later; hear and listen for now.
  • Let it go. Perhaps this isn’t the time or place for your opinions to be heard.

Creating personal beliefs about what is being said and getting caught in your own thoughts.

  • Be objective. If you are judging the content, you will miss the message.
  • Avoid dismissing the subject as uninteresting; this will cause you to shut down.
  • Be respectful by avoiding prejudice.

Evaluating and being critical about the speaker or the message.

  • Remain impartial about the person. Reflecting on appearance, demeanor, and whether you like or dislike the person will deflect the content of the message.

Not asking for clarification when you know that you do not understand.

  • There is a time and place for questions. If the speaker has a designated time, respect it. If not, raise your hand and ask for a better explanation of the content.

Faking “Paying Attention”

  • Counteract your “drifting off” and become an active participant. Ask questions or steer the conversation into something where you can listen.


“Seek first to understand, before being understood” Steven Covey

The Benefits of Effective Listening

  1. Listening increases the chance to be heard. When you listen and try to understand someone, this develops a sense of rapport which tends to steer them into wanting to hear what you have to say.

  2. Listening builds better relationships. People will believe that you care and in turn will care more about you.

  3. Listening reduces conflict. Misunderstandings can be avoided. Errors can be prevented. Quarrels can be evaded.
  4. Listening gains you knowledge.
  • Clearer understanding about information being presented.
  • Learn something new. Knowledge is power.
  • Get more information to fully process any topic.

Listening Skills to Hone

  1. Practice “Pre-Communication” techniques.
  2. Practice “Overcoming Barriers” from previous section.
  3. Be an Active Observer. Listen for feelings, attitudes and values. Analyze the speaker’s body language and facial expression.
  4. Be an Active Participant. Paraphrase or “read back” what you have heard. Ask questions of interest. Nod occasionally or offer words of encouragement.
  5. Only interrupt when necessary, be gracious when you do for the comfort of the speaker.


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