This is one of those posts that I decided to write mainly because I needed to read it. For years, one of my New Years resolutions has been to become a better listener, yet it still ends up being one of the things that I consistently struggle with the most. Far too often when I’m in conversation, I accidentally end up replaying events from the day, thinking about my to-do list, or getting distracted by the buzz of my phone.

Yes, it’s unintentional, but there’s a quote that says, “The first duty of love is to listen,” and there’s not a doubt in my mind that being a good listener is one of the most powerful ways we can show others that we really care about them.

Plus we’ll learn so much more and have deeper insights if we’re able to truly process what we’re hearing. Since those are things that I definitely want in my own life, I’ve been researching the science-backed ways we can become better listeners – and remove some of the hurdles that get in the way most frequently. Keep reading for the findings that have resonated with me most, and I’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the comments.

feature photo via roolee

photo via peel

1 – Put away your phone.

How can something so straightforward be so hard to put into practice? The simple act of putting your phone out of sight helps you to engage with the world around you. Try it, and notice how you’re suddenly more in the moment, able to see and hear things that you ordinarily wouldn’t notice. As M. Scott Peck said, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”

photo via hello fashion

2 – Be genuinely curious.

Often, we appear to be listening to others because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do, but our minds are actually a million miles away. I’ve learned that the only way to really become a good listener is to develop a spirit of genuine curiosity. My own mother is the master of this. When I was growing up (and usually chattering constantly), I always knew that she approached our conversations with genuine curiosity. When Mom asked about my school day, she really wanted to know the answer, and the result was that I always opened up about whatever was going on in my life. Let’s cultivate a spirit of curiosity in others’ lives so they can be vulnerable with us.

Another benefit of curiosity is that it helps you suspend judgement of the other person. When you approach a conversation in an effort to truly understand through active listening, you end up asking questions like, “How does that make you feel?” instead of jumping in or becoming defensive. Even if you do disagree in the end, you might find some common ground that allows you to respond with empathy.

3 – Don’t think about your response while the other person is talking.

Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

This can be a tough one to put into practice, since most of us are conditioned to think about what we’re going to say next as our foremost duty in a conversation. One strategy that’s helped me: paraphrase at least some of what the other person just said before responding. It ensures that I’ve accurately understood them, plus it gives me some time to process and think about my response after they’ve finished speaking.

photo via tara hurst

4 – Pretend you’re going to have to tell someone else about the conversation later on.

This is a cool little mental trick that really works. By telling yourself that you’re going to have to describe the conversation you’re having later, your brain automatically engages in the active listening skills it needs for recall. Instead of thinking about your response, you start processing what the other person is saying so that you can really remember it – which means being alert, engaged, and asking questions.

photo via lauren scruggs kennedy

5 – Maintain eye contact.

This is something I’ve really been working on this year, and it’s amazing how the simple act of maintaining eye contact with someone throughout our conversation allows me to stay more present. Sometimes before sitting down with another person for a discussion, I’ll remind myself of two simple words: “Show up.” Even though I’m already there physically, just saying this phrase can be a powerful reminder to be ALL there, not drifting around the space of my thoughts.

the finish blog

6 – Wait for the punctuation at the end of the sentence.

Sometimes I find myself getting so anxious to share my own ideas that I tend to jump in before the other person has finished their complete thought – which is really just another way of saying that I’m interrupting. Instead of rushing to state my opinion or suggest solutions, I’m trying to become comfortable with waiting for the pause at the end of the other person’s sentence. By being present and really listening, it tells the other person that you value them enough to take however much time they need to share their thoughts.

I think that most of us would agree that it’s more difficult than it used to be to stay present in the moment; there are so many things competing for our attention, from the constant flow of emails to our overpacked schedules. But I believe that becoming a good listener is worth our continued time and effort. Not only does it communicate love and respect to the people around us, but as Bernard Baruch wisely stated, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

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Comments (16)
  1. 1
    Kelly November 1, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Great tips! The put away your phone is a good one! I hate when phone rings when I am sharing thoughts with my friends!

  2. 2
    Mary Sanavia November 1, 2017 at 10:11 am

    I loved this post! These days everybody is trying to “keep up” with everything and they end up doing the opposite. I think everybody should have a “phone timeout” at least once a day 😉

  3. 3
    Jennifer Rose Smith November 1, 2017 at 11:39 am

    This is great. I think listening is one of those life skills that really pays off when you work on it. I also find that genuinely listening to others provides my mind with a much-needed break from my own thoughts. It can be a very relaxing act to listen.

  4. 4
    Marina November 1, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Great, timely advice in our age of distractions. The quote from Stephen Covey really rings true — listening to understand is totally different from listening to respond. One is about you and the other is about me! Which brings me to another important element of listening: keep the focus on the person who is speaking, rather than our all-too-frequent response of ‘that reminds me of when I ….” and before you know it, the conversation has shifted from the other person to yourself.

  5. 5
    Fortune Dushey November 1, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    I LOVE this post! I too try to be attentive when other people are speaking and sometimes I also will be thinking about my to do list etc…
    All your tips are right on.
    I especially like tip #4 – Next time I’m in conversation, I will pretend Im going to have to tell someone the conversation later on. Genius…
    Thank you!

  6. 6
    Bree November 3, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Thank you for writing these types of articles. They really help me grow as a person.

  7. 7
    cottonandhydrangeas November 4, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    I have such a hard time listening sometimes…this post is perfect for me! I can’t wait to put these tips into use!


  8. 8
    Jackie Rowley November 5, 2017 at 4:20 am

    Brilliant article I shall put all six points into practice. May I also add, that I find repeating things back to the person I am talking to also helps me to clarify that I have listened properly.

  9. 9
    Pernille Bahn November 5, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Love it! Simply just love you’re post – specially the one where we’re supposed to pretend to retell someone else’s story. It’s very inspiring, and I promise to myself, that today, I will listen carefully to the people around me.

  10. 10
    Barbara November 5, 2017 at 7:59 am

    I seldom have my phone with me, it drives my family crazy. However when I am catching up with a friend the flow of conversation is frequently broken up by the phone. The punchline falls flat, the thread of a story, lost. Listening. I bite my tongue and ask questions.

  11. 11
    Cynthia Williams November 7, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks, I’m always interested in reading/sharing ideas about being a better listener. I appreciated the “don’t think about your response…”…. this is something we all do habitually. I would just like share one simple, super simple actually idea about being a good listener. ‘Shut your mouth.” ;<)… by simply having eye contact and having the person who's sharing something seeing not only our eye contact but our mouths being CLOSED… their brain immediately sends signals that they truly have your ear. When they see our – the listener's – mouths are open they are ready psychologically to be interrupted the whole way through what they're sharing with us. When I read this I thought WOW… it's really a first thing to remember. Cheers!

  12. 12
    humantay trek November 24, 2019 at 9:17 am

    I have such a hard time listening sometimes…this post is perfect for me! I can’t wait to put these tips into use!