The Art of Listening

Listening is an aspect of your life that you do instinctively.  You have been listening since you were born, so this ability has become second nature.  In some respects that is good, because without thinking you are aware of your surroundings.  However, familiarity creates unconscious behavior.  You might have forgotten that there is an art to listening.  To be a good listener, you must be aware of what you are doing at a conscious level.  For some of us, it can be quite a challenge. You may have become so comfortable with what you are currently doing, that you are unaware that there is room for improvement.    The better you listen, the more effectively you can respond.  This enhanced exchange creates better communication.  Better communication leads to improved relationships.  Improved relationships create a better world to live in.

Here are some areas to focus on to become a better listener.

Make sure you are giving your full attention to someone who is speaking to you.  Be aware of what thought processes are going on in your head.  Stop yourself from judging what is being said because of some personal characteristics of the speaker.  Don’t get preoccupied with who is speaking; rather concentrate on what is being said.

Provide feedback when asked.  It is encouraging to a speaker to acknowledge that you are listening by nods or asking clarifying questions.  However, don’t fall into the trap of giving your advice unless someone actually asks for it.  Some people just need to vent.  If you are unsure of what is being asked of you, then present the question, “How can I help?”

Keep an open mind while listening to others.  You might think you know the point someone is trying to make, but a good listener does not jump to conclusions.  When you allow the speaker to finish their thoughts first, you have a more definitive idea of the information they are sharing.  Who knows, you might learn something new.

Don’t create distractions.  The world is distracting enough.  Multi-tasking may be advantageous to complete a project, but it is not representative of a good listener.  You are not truly listening if you are texting, interrupting or looking for someone you know in a crowded room.  If a conversation is going to be substantial, find a place where interruptions will be unlikely.

One of the most important aspects of listening is taking responsibility for being the receiver of information.  When you are not clear on what is being said, or the intent of the speaker, it is your responsibility to clarify by asking questions. Every question is worthwhile if it allows a valuable communication to be shared.

Concentrate on trying each of these tips for a day. Learn what type of listener you are and where you can improve.

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Julie Ann Sullivan has been engaging people with her workshops and interactive presentations for more than 20 years.  She speaks to corporations, educators, students and professional organizations about life’s journeys. She is the author of Life Lessons, Shape-Up for Success and Pocketful of Inspiration.  Julie Ann lives in Pittsburgh PA with her poodle Lucky. Learn more about Julie Ann by visiting


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