The Power of Listening: Developing Skills that Lead to Better Conversations

I want you to think about two words: listening and hearing. What do these two words mean? Are they synonymous with each other? I don’t think so because hearing isn’t listening. While it might be easy to simply sit down and hear another person talk, this doesn’t mean that you are actively listening to their message or understanding what they have to say. Listening is active and disciplined. When done effectively it helps us examine and challenge the information we hear in order to improve its quality and quantity, which in turn allows for better decision making.

Why Listening is Important

Named one of the most critical business skills that one can possess, good listening can help develop new insight and ideas, which can help when looking to meet goals and attain success. Listening has the power to shape our realities by providing active interpretation about a situation—and it’s the answer to improving productivity, delivering effectiveness as a leader, and building relationships with clients and employees. It can help develop the culture of a company and is a great contributor to overall morale.

So how can one become a better listener?

  1. Don’t be a parrot. There is a lot of misinformation out there that encourages a listener to pay attention to what is being said and repeat phrases. Instead, work to clarify what you heard the other person say by paraphrasing in your own jargon the message that was just delivered to you. This will help both parties because you and the speaker will be assured that there is understanding.
  2. Ask open ended questions. Deeper understanding along with new ideas and concepts could be uncovered by asking questions that encourage brainstorming and interpretation. For instance, asking, “Tell me what you make of what I just said,” and “How did that affect your thinking?”
  3. Use the 80/20 rule. Your conversation partner should be speaking 80 percent of the time, which leaves you with the remaining 20 percent. While it can be difficult to suppress your urge to speak more than listen, through practice and patience it is possible. You will be better able to weigh in at the right time with good questions or other feedback that assures the speaker that you are paying attention.
  4. Stay aware of non-verbal cues. People tend to have much less conscious control over their non-verbal messages when compared to the words that are actually coming out of their mouth. This is partly because non-verbal communication is more emotional, making it more instinctive. Non-verbal cues can be signals to a listener—and if there is a mismatch between the words that are being delivered and the body language that is being used, there could be deeper issues present in the messaging. Additionally, if a speaker’s non-verbal behavior is rigid, it could indicate that body language is being suppressed, and the person is trying to hide their true emotions on a subject.
  5. You don’t have to agree. It is possible to listen to a point of view and not agree with it or validate the message. What matters here is that you are attentive, engaged, and present—and that you listen without judgment, withholding negative evaluations and being open minded in the conversation.

Of course, some people are going to naturally be better listeners than others. It is through practice and the identification of individual strengths and weaknesses that we have the ability to improve. Remember, as Diogenes Laertius said, “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”

And the bonus: People will like you more when you listen to them.

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