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Stop, Look and Listen: 5 Steps to Improve Your Listening Skills

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Would you like an easy way to remember how to be a better listener, at work and at home?  Try these five simple steps:                            

 Prepare to Listen

 Before we explore each step a little closer, let’s talk about getting ready to listen. If you know you are about to engage in a conversation that is important to you and/or the other person, get yourself physically and mentally prepared to listen well. Whether it’s an interview, a family discussion, lending a shoulder to a friend, or holding a workplace one-­‐to-­‐one meeting, consider these tips:

  • Find a place free from distractions
  • Allow time for listening without excessive time pressure or deadlines
  • Provide a comfortable atmosphere
  •  Find a neutral space, free of power or “turf” differences
  • Ask yourself “What is the purpose of this communication exchange?” Stay focused on why you are meeting with the other person.

Now that you’re mentally and physically prepared, jump right into active listening mode.


  1. Stop everything else you are doing, and give the speaker your undivided attention. Forget about what happened an hour ago. Put aside your thoughts about what’s happening this evening after work. Focus entirely on the speaker. Imagine you and the speaker are the only people in the room (or building).
  2. Let go of all judgment. Set aside any biases you have about the person or her point of view. Work hard to set aside your first impressions.


  1. Make good eye contact with the speaker. Nod occasionally to let her know that you’re interested. Watch for body language signals that let you know how she is feeling about what she is saying.
  2. Force yourself to be interested in what she is saying, not on what you’re going to say next.


  1. Listen to understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes. Try seeing the world through her eyes for just a moment. This is like magic! Everyone wants to feel that they matter.
  2. Avoid the temptation to interrupt and offer unsolicited advice. Also avoid jumping in with your own story to top the one you’re listening to. Use simple words and phrases like “Hmmm,” “I see,” “Yeah,” or simply nod to show you’re still interested.


  1. When the speaker is finished, ask any questions you may have to help clarify something or fill in any missing information.
  2. Use open-­‐ended questions whenever possible to get the best information. Avoid closed-­‐ended questions (those that spark a yes/no answer).


  1. Put into your own words what the speaker said. Some people refer to this as mirroring.
  2. Paraphrase or reflect back not only the words but also how the speaker seemed to feel about what she said.
  3. Pause. Stop talking. Wait for her to confirm that you have the same understanding of the message that she intended.

Sound easy? Stop reading and practice these steps with someone you know well. Ask them a thought-­‐provoking question and see how you do! Possible questions for practice with a friend or colleague:

  • How did you get your name?
  • If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
  • How could your workplace be an even better place to work?
  • How did you get to where you are at this stage of your career? What were your major milestones?

This is an interesting and insightful exercise. People in my listening workshops often come back the second day and tell me about their experiences practicing this formula.   Best of luck in improving your listening skills!

For more information check out my ebook:  Better Listening Skills: A No-Nonsense Guide

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