Listening is an incredibly useful skill in both business and personal relationships.

Habits to Differentiate Good from Poor Listening:


This information is from “How to Be a Better Listener” by Sherman K. Okum, Nation’s Business, August 1975, and from “Building a Professional Image: Improving Listening Behavior” by Philip Morgan and Kent Baker, Supervisory Management, November 1995. Only about 25 percent of listeners grasp the central ideas in communications.

Poor Listener Effective Listener
tends to “wool-gather” with slow speakers thinks and mentally summarizes, weighs the evidence, listens between the lines to tones of voice and evidence
subject is dry so tunes out speaker finds what’s in it for me
distracted easily fights distractions, sees past bad communication habits, knows how to concentrate
takes intensive notes, but the more notes taken, the less value; has only one way to take notes has 2-3 ways to take notes and organize important information
is overstimulated, tends to seek and enter into arguments doesn’t judge until comprehension is complete
inexperienced in listening to difficult material; has usually sought light, recreational materials uses “heavier” materials to regularly exercise the mind
lets deaf spots or blind words catch his or her attention interpret color words, and doesn’t get hung up on them
shows no energy output holds eye contact and helps speaker along by showing an active body state
judges delivery — tunes out judges content, skips over delivery errors
listens for facts listens for central ideas


Listening is a critical skill for all adults to have, to learn about others. The following common guidelines can help you to accomplish effective listening in the vast majority of situations.

Be sure you can hear the speaker. It is surprising how often people do not really listen to other people. It is just as surprising how often people do not realize that they cannot even hear other people. So always make this your first guideline in any situation for effective listening.

Overall, attempt to listen 75% of time – speak 25% of time. This is one of the most powerful guidelines. Use of the guideline depends on your situation. For example, if you are making a presentation, you will speak more. Otherwise, ensure that the other person speaks more than you do – and listen to them.

Adopt a culturally compatible physical posture to show you are interested. This can be a powerful means to show others that you are interested in hearing them. For example, you might lean forward and maintain eye contact. Whatever physical gestures you make, be sure they are compatible to the culture of the speaker.

Do not think about what to say while you are also trying to listen to the speaker. Your brain goes four times faster than a speaker’s voice. Thus, your brain can easily leave the speaker behind. Instead, trust that you will know how to respond to the speaker when the speaker is done.

Notice the other’s speaking style. Different people have different speaking styles. Do they speak loud or soft? Slow or fast? Are there disconnects between what they say versus what their body language conveys? Some people convey the central idea first and then support it with additional information. Other people provide information to lead the listener to the same conclusion as the speaker.

Listen for the central ideas, not for all the facts. Experienced leaders develop a sense for noticing the most important information conveyed by their people. They hear the main themes and ideas from their employees. If you notice the major ideas, then often the facts “come along” with those ideas.

Let the speaker finish each major point that he/she wants to make. Do not interrupt – offer your response when the speaker is done. If you do have to interrupt, do so to ensure you are hearing the other person. Interrupt tactfully. For example, put up your hand and say, “Might I interrupt to ask you to clarify something?”

Reflect back and ask if you are hearing accurately. Start by asking if you can reflect back, or summarize, to the other person after he/she has spoken. Then progress to where you can ask the person to summarize back to you what you have just said to him/her.

Regularly share indications that you are listening to them. Those indications can be, for example, nodding your head, saying, “Yes” to short points that you agree with.

Learn the art of supportive questioning. Coaching involves the use of powerful questions to understand yours and other’s perceptions, assumptions and conclusions. The coach must practice effective questioning skills to really understand others.

Ask others to provide you feedback about your communication skills. Often, people do not know what they do not know about themselves. One example is the leader who prizes him/herself on strong listening skills, yet regularly interrupts others when they are speaking. Another is the leader who speaks only in conclusions, but does not share how he/she came to those conclusions. Thus, others do not understand the leader’s rationale.

Based on the above criteria, you could complete a self-evaluation and then base your plan on developing any weaker areas.  Strategies for improving listening skills could include removing distractions, taking notes, or sitting closer to the speaker.

Isra Usman,

Student Relationship Manager