This Is How You Can Become a Better Listener Is How You Can Become a Better Listener

Want to become a better listener? Talk too much?

Poor listening is related to many of the most common and damaging leadership derailers, including being (or being viewed as) controlling, disconnected, egotistical, insensitive, aloof, intimidating, or micromanaging.

It’s hard to be a good leader if you’re a dominating talker. Of course, there are times when you must speak up and issue directives. But most of the time, you should listen more and talk less.

There are many benefits that follow from good listening. For example, it tends to: strengthen relationships and build rapport, help build a strong sense of team spirit and community, boost motivation, build trust, set a good example for others, help you gather important information and reduce misunderstandings, improve decision-making, facilitate bidirectional feedback, enhance your influence, broaden your perspective, and help you understand what’s happening in the organization. In the end, it can help improve performance.

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


How to Be a Better Listener: 19 Practices

Here are 19 practices for listening effectively:

1. Manage your talking-to-listening ratio and make sure you’re not talking too much. Use the acronym WAIT: “Why Am I Talking?”

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
-Zeno of Citium, ancient Greek Stoic philosopher

2. Give people your full, undivided attention—and maintain it throughout the conversation. Put your phone down and your laptop away. Make space in your day so you can be fully present with people. If you have back-to-back meetings, you’ll be racing through them, frazzled, drained, and unlikely to be a good listener.

“I slowed down. I made time to listen.”
-Kevin Sharer, former president and COO, Amgen

3. Minimize distractions.

4. Avoid interruptions.

5. Look people in the eye. Maintain good eye contact throughout the conversation. Shower people with full attention and interest.

6. Focus on taking in everything they’re saying and avoid the common tendency of formulating your response in your head while they’re talking.

7. Check your understanding of what they’ve said periodically. Use their own words or phrases when possible to ensure that you’re understanding it properly and not missing or misinterpreting things.

8. Ask questions to ensure understanding. Encourage them to flesh out key points. But be careful not to ask too many questions. That can frustrate people by disrupting their flow, and it can lead to you commandeering or controlling the conversation.

9. Show that you’re listening with your body language and other nonverbal cues. What cues? Things like nodding, eye contact, facial reactions, and even good posture.

10. Pay attention to their nonverbal communication and cues. Consider their facial expressions, tone, emotions, and body language.

11. Convey interest. Engage in what they’re saying and show you care about them and their viewpoint.

12. Focus not just on what they’re saying. Consider also how they’re saying it, what they’re not saying, and when they’re excited about or resistant to certain topics. Look for signs of their interests, concerns, questions, aspirations, challenges, and energy.

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.


13. Listen with an open mind and without judgment. Avoid the trap of coming in with pre-existing assumptions or an agenda.

14. Avoid jumping in unprompted with advice or solutions. Most people don’t want to be told what to do or fixed, except in specific circumstances. As a leader, a big part of your job is to help them learn and grow, including solving their own problems.

15. Seek out and listen to people who don’t typically speak up in meetings. Show everyone that you’re seeking and valuing all voices.

16. Listen to a diverse array of people. Gather input from people with varying backgrounds, perspectives, interests, and identities. Don’t get caught in a thought bubble and miss important insights.

17. Encourage people to share bad news and speak up when they disagree. Otherwise, people may keep avoiding the elephant in the room, which can lead to information vacuums and misunderstandings.

18. Write up summaries of key points in meetings and share these widely. This will show people you’re listening and following up.

19. Show people respect and treat them as partners. By doing so, you’ll be inviting them to join you in a shared mission of exploring issues and solving problems collaboratively. And you’ll make them feel empowered.

What will you do to become a better listener?


Tools for You

Alignment Scorecard

When organizations aren’t aligned, it can reduce performance dramatically and cause frustration and dysfunction. With this Alignment Scorecard, you can assess your organization’s level of alignment and make plans for improving it.


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Postscript: Quotations on Leadership and Listening

  • “To be a good leader you have to be a great listener…. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice.” -Richard Branson, British entrepreneur
  • “The best leaders are great listeners. They listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel…. Through intense listening, leaders get a sense of what people want, what they value, and what they dream about… Extraordinary things happen when leaders listen.” -James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge
  • “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” -Ernest Hemingway, novelist and journalist
  • “Listen with curiosity…. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” -Roy T. Bennett, writer
  • “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” -Bernard M. Baruch, financier and statesman
  • “Since true listening involves a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the others. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable, and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. As this happens, speaker and listener begin to appreciate each other more and more….” -M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author
“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., poet and physician

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards written with his father, Bob Vanourek). Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! Is How You Can Become a Better Listener

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