How to be a Good Listener?

What makes someone a good listener?

Listen – I have something to tell you!

We have all been there — Zoning out when someone is talking!Someone is talking about financial strategy, and we are already thinking of the dozen things that we would rather be doing!

It is a meeting you can’t skip, so you just strategically place enough fillers — oh,ok!, Is it? right! Tell me more! to keep the conversation going and giving an impression that we are actually listening.

In this age of instant communication and instant distraction, our attention levels have sunk to their lowest levels!

Yes, our attention span is lesser than that of a goldfish! In 2015, Microsoft released a study claiming that the average human attention span had dropped to eight seconds, down from twelve in the year 2000, making us apparently more distracted than goldfish!

We are more connected than ever, but that is also precisely why we are more disconnected from deep conversations! In the attempt to make ourselves heard over the channels and all the noise, we broadcast more!

Why is this?

To understand, pause reading for a second and observe your surrounding:

  • You have atleast 2 devices and multiple screens begging for your attention
  • Several notifications that are asking you check them out (not all notifications are life altering!)
  • A background score — it could be music, someone talking, the hum of the AC, sound of traffic or even the sound of nature
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO) not being a part of some conversation, not reading an article at that moment, not having checked your message/e-mail for some time

There are a million things vying for your attention!

Now, despite all the distraction, how can you ensure that you really listen?

  • Make it an engaging conversation: Before every discussion, know what you want to get from it. What questions would you ask? What kind of leading questions can be taken from the conversation?

Remember the folks who host all those talk shows on TV — they keep asking leading questions!

  • Be insanely curious: The more you are unfamiliar with the subject, the better. Now that you in the room or in the conversation, what is the maximum knowledge that you can take away with you? What would you like to remember about this? What was that you always wanted to know?

Remember the doctor with who you had a great rapport with? Why — because he was really curious about how you were and how were you shaping up and recovering!

  • Just listen: People have a lot to say. Some may get to the point directly, while others may take their time getting there. Especially in a group, different people have different speeds of grasping content and the preferences in the way how it is delivered.

People need to trust you to start sharing more!

There is the story of Barry McManus, a CIA Chief Interrogator, who really listened to a Pakistani Nuclear scientist. The scientist felt at ease with McManus and trusted him enough to share his story about Bin Laden!

Remember the negotiators who ensure peace — truly amazing, how they listen to each party and come up with mutually agreeable terms!

  • Don’t be generic: Use snatches of the conversation in addition to your interpretation to ask more incisive questions or to reply

Next time someone confides in you, you know better than to just say Hmmm…!

  • Drop the guard: Don’t assume what the other person is going to say, and get busy with formulating the responses.

That is why sometimes you may prefer talking to a stranger but not to a family member!

This is probably the #1 reason for conversational issues in couples and teams. Next time drop the monkeys and just listen first!

Everyone is interesting if you ask the right questions, If someone is dull or uninteresting, it is on you!

— Kate Murphy (Book: You’re not listening)

[This book is also an inspiration for this article!]


  • Listening is not agreement: You can always have opposing views
  • Listening is not acceptance: You can always have more questions before you can make up your mind! Listening shows you respect the individual and his opinions
  • Listening is not being controlled: It Is an exchange of ideas or a confirmation of thoughts
  • Listening is not being the conversation pusher: Silences are part of the listening game!
  • Listening is not subjecting yourself to torture: If you are lacking energy, excuse yourself and take a break to come back refreshed
  • Listening isn’t just external: You need to listen to yourself — your words, thoughts and the gut feelings!

In Summary:

The best feeling in the world is when you are being listened to. Undivided attention, the subtle urges to go on and a razor focus on the subject that is being discussed.

Be a great listener — it benefits both you and the speaker!

Remember, how you hang on to every word in slap-stick comedy show? That’s the way to go. That kind of listening, along with your knowledge, experiences and opinions make an awesome cocktail for great conversations!

Happy Listening!

Also published on my medium page: Listen, I have something to tell you!