The #1 Reason To Improve Your Listening Skills


Listening to audiobooks is one of my favourite things to do, especially when I’m on the road to Moncton, Charlottetown, Fredericton or Saint John. I’ve had the library app, OverDrive, on my phone for years and it feels like an exciting new gift every time I use it.

I recently listened to the book How To Think: A Survival Guide For A World At Odds, by Alan Jacobs. While much of the language of this book is annoyingly academic, it contains great stories and examples – and one tidbit of information that was not a light bulb moment for me but a lightning strike.

What was this amazing piece of wisdom? And how will it impact not only your business but all your relationships?

Jacobs includes in his book a story shared in 2012 by Basecamp founder, Jason Fried. While listening to a presentation at a conference, Fried instantly began focusing on how much he disagreed with the presenter’s point of view. He kept adding to his list of disagreements throughout the presentation. Afterwards, he approached the speaker and shared his reactions … and maybe even his outrage.

The presenter’s response – give it 5 minutes.  As Fried shares, “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react.” As soon as Fried started his catalogue of disagreements with the presenter … he stopped listening. And when we aren’t listening (here comes the lightning bolt), we can’t think.

When we don’t listen, when we get caught up in reacting instead, we stay mired in what we already know, what we already believe about someone or something.

When we don’t listen, we focus on proving something, not learning something.

When we don’t listen we stay where we’re comfortable; we don’t grow and we don’t help others grow.

When we don’t listen, we don’t think.

And if we’re not thinking, how can we possibly help our clients and prospects? If we’re not thinking, how can we resolve issues with customers? If we’re not thinking, how can we make any relationship stronger and more vital? If we’re not thinking, how can we innovate?

We can’t. To reach our goals of increased sales, loyal customers, steadfast relationships and startling new ideas, we need to continually improve our ability to listen.

Do you have a listening practice? What does it look like?  Share it here so all of us can find our way to becoming better listeners … and better thinkers.


4 thoughts on “The #1 Reason To Improve Your Listening Skills”

  1. Very true. I can imagine myself listening to someone with whom I disagree. As I’m going through all my long bulleted list of rebuttals against their argument. I’m simply not listening to their statement.

    Very good point. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Mick. The same holds true if we are thinking about our answer to a question, or thinking about what question we will ask, or simply what we are going to say next. In all of these situations, we are not allowing the time to think about what the other person is saying and sharing with us. I find this perspective quite motivating; I find myself practicing a different kind of listening.

  2. When listening, it is also important to recognize that your thinking is much faster than the speaker’s speed of speaking. Most of us talk at about 150-200 words a minute, but we can think in thousands of words per minute. A key listening skill is to concentrate our thinking on understanding what the other person is saying – from their point of view.
    A technique I recommend is ASSESS.
    A – Attention – deliberately intend to understand the other person’s point of view, use your eyes as well as your ears to follow what they are saying, and quiet your own self-talk.
    S = Select – make sure this is a good time and place to listen, where neither of you will be distracted by others or time constraints. Move to a quieter place or re-schedule if necessary.
    S – Support – Nod and grunt – that is, keep directing your thinking to understanding what the speaker is saying, making occasional sounds like “Uhuh,” “really”, “go on”. Bite your tongue to stop yourself from asking a question at this stage or even worse, offering advice. You haven’t heard enough yet to do that, and if you interrupt at this stage, you will change the speaker’s flow of thought.
    E – Echo – paraphrase your understanding of something the speaker has said. This reassures and sometimes surprises the speaker by showing that you are really, really listening. Do this at least twice before going to the next step. When you paraphrase, you will see the speaker relax and you also give your speaker time to think.
    S – Survey – ask an open-ended question which will enhance your understanding of what the speaker is saying. Start with What, How, Where, Who, or When. Hold back on your Why question until later – why tends to sound critical or even advice in disguise.
    As the back and forth between your paraphrasing, the speaker’s response, your questions, more responses from the speaker, more paraphrasing and questions from you, you will gradually realize that you are fully understanding the situation from the speaker’s point of view. Now it is time to
    S – Summarize – ask the speaker whether you can summarize what you have understood the speaker has told you. Be careful to word it in terms of what you have understood, not in terms of what the speaker has said. Once your speaker has given you permission to summarize what you have understood, start at the beginning of the conversation summarizing as best you can from your memory (or notes if you have made them). Almost inevitably, your speaker will interrupt at some point and either correct your summary or add more information. These interruptions are expected and welcome, because between the two of you, you want to be clear about the information the speaker wants to share with you.
    Again, your role as a good listener is to focus your own thinking on understanding a clearly as possible what the speaker is sharing with you, giving the speaker time to think and to share his or her point of view.

    Once the speaker has accepted your summary, has agreed you have “got it,” you can then ask whether they would like to hear your point of view or even your advice. They will now be much more likely to listen to you. Actually, if you have listened really well – especially to an employee or a child, you have given them enough support to think through the issue for themselves and they may say something like, “Thanks for listening, I now know what I am going to do”


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