So You Think You’re a Good Listener

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Most of us think we are pretty good listeners. Some of us know we have some work to do in that area. While a few of us actually are really good listeners.

But what does it mean to be a good listener?

Does it mean being an active listener? You know, remaining silent while the speaker speaks, giving those little acknowledgements that we are still listening (head nods, mm hmm, go on, etc), and repeating back what the speaker just expressed, practically word for word.

That’s how we’ve been told (from coaches, trainers, and mothers) that active listening is done. But that is just the beginning of being a good listener.

Of course, we should refrain from interrupting the speaker. Of course, we should give listening acknowledgments, and of course, we should be able to repeat what the speaker just said.


Isn’t our purpose as active listeners to be more active? Those recommendations all seem to be rather passive to me.

I mean, remaining silent and not interrupting is just being polite and requires little activity on our part. Nodding our head and saying, “mm hmm” is not exactly active either. And parroting back the speaker’s words is just lazy (and possibly insulting).

If we want to be good listeners, we need to be
more present, more engaged, and more mindful
of the other person.

Typically we think of mindfulness as a solitary effort, focusing on ourselves and our environment and how it relates to us in the present moment.

For example, when we meditate, we focus on our breathing or on specific body parts, or sounds around us. It’s all about focusing on what we feel and how we feel, working toward calm and restoration.

But being mindful is more than a solo project. It means being aware of everything around us and focusing attention on each component at that time.

That means being mindful of ourselves, and mindful of others in our vicinity.

To be mindful during conversation, we must train our attention to the other person, focusing on what they feel, how they feel, working toward understanding and engagement.

Here are some suggestions to be a mindful listener:

  1. Remove distractions
  2. Make eye contact on a balanced level
  3. Ask questions that promote discovery and insight
  4. Acknowledge and validate to build self-esteem
  5. Be cooperative, not competitive

Remove Distractions: To fully attend to your conversation partner and be a good listener, you must first relieve yourself of any possible distractions. That means setting your phone to silent, putting it away, out of view.

Putting your phone out of view tells
your partner you are ready to engage in a
meaningful conversation.

Make eye contact on a balanced level: Keep your body aligned to your conversation partner’s. Maintaining eye contact is important to show interest.

Keeping your and your partner’s eyes aligned on the same plane shows that you are meeting them
where they are.

You are not looking down on the other person (dominating) and you are not looking up (submissive). You are both meeting at the same level, in the same space, as equals.

Ask questions that promote discovery and insight: Listening silently can be polite, but it is not being mindful. In order to show your conversation partner you are interested in what they are saying, ask questions that seek to clarify understanding or delve for deeper insight.

Ask questions to promote the speaker to find deeper meaning in their own thoughts and words.

Acknowledge and validate to build self-esteem: When people engage in conversation they seek to share something important to them. For us to be good listeners, we should find ways to let our partner know that we heard what they said and they are supported in their feelings.

The best conversations are a positive experience, and we as mindful listeners, make every effort to create a safe space, show support, and build
confidence in our partner.

Be cooperative, not competitive: As a mindful listener, always find ways to be cooperative, helping to build the story (using the “yes, and” method) and broaden the conversation.

Mindful listeners never “me too” during conversation. Do not use THEIR story to promote yourself and YOUR accomplishments. Don’t try to compare or show “compassion” or “empathy” by telling about your similar accomplishment or experience.

There is no glory in stealing someone else’s spotlight. That is just selfish and deflates your
partner’s self-esteem.

As a mindful listener, you always focus on the other person’s win, dream, or challenge, not yours. It’s not about you, it’s about being there for them and supporting their story.

Build a habit of being a mindful listener. You will find greater satisfaction in your relationships and stronger bonds across your network of friends and colleagues.

Being a mindful listener will also bring you joy, contentment, and a greater sense of service as a leader at work and at home.

Your Mindful Moment:

Being mindful is not a solitary effort. It involves our bodies, our environment, and our interactions with others.

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