Listening is an essential communication skill. How well you listen plays a huge role in your ability to be an effective communicator – on the job and at home.

And listening is different from hearing. Listening is active. It requires intention. Many conversations are simply one person waiting for the other person to finish, so he or she can speak. Learning to listen actively requires that you develop patience and self-awareness. And it takes practice.

I acted in a few plays in college. I remember opening night of my first play. I was standing backstage, waiting for my cue to open the door and enter the scene. Suddenly my heart started racing and my mind went blank. I had no idea what I was supposed to say when I got on stage.

Just then, my professor Sam Havens appeared at my side. He looked at me and smiled.

“Professor Havens,” I whimpered. “I have no idea what my line is. I can’t go on stage!”

“Just listen,” he said, and then he disappeared into the dark behind the curtains.

I had no time to think about what he meant. There was my cue. I opened the door, stepped into the scene, and listened. I was actively aware of the other characters. I let go of my need to say something, and instead, paid attention to what was going on around me. In an instant, I was in the scene and listening to the other actors. My lines became a conversation, rather than reciting words.

That was a great lesson for me. One I used in my career as a business writer. I applied active listening when talking with clients. I learned how active listening gave me insights and understanding that transformed the facts and data into meaning.

It made the difference between me just getting information, and instead, gaining understanding.

So how do you learn to listen?

A tourist was walking down 7th Avenue in New York City, when he stopped a fellow passing by and asked: “Excuse me sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice,” replied the fellow.

That advice applies to you too. Here are a few ways you can practice active listening.

1. Acknowledge the speaker with simple sounds or gestures

Let the other person know you’re listening. It can be something as simple as nodding your head, or a subtle smile, or saying "uh huh."  Plus, using your body language or verbal cues to acknowledge you're listening, reminds you to pay attention.

 2. Repeat what the speaker says by paraphrasing or asking questions.

You can confirm details by asking questions like “Is the Thursday deadline by 5:00pm, or is it Thursday morning?” or “Can you tell me more about your expectations for our meeting this afternoon?” or "What I'm hearing you say is...is that right?"

 3. Look directly at the speaker.

Looking at the speaker and nodding slightly is a simple, almost subconscious, affirmation that you are listening. But don’t feel you have to stare without looking away or blinking! It’s natural to glance away, especially when you’re thinking.

 4. Try not to interrupt.

This is a delicate balance. Sometimes, interrupting with an affirmation like “Yes, exactly!” or “Wow, that sounds like a big challenge,” can be great ways to show you’re listening. But when you interrupt just to get your point across, you’ve stopped listening, and you’ve signaled to the other person that you’re not interested.

 5. Avoid judgment statements.

It’s easy to project our own beliefs and values on others. But this doesn’t make good listening. Empathy and compassion are important parts of active listening. Instead of replying with something like “Oh, that shouldn’t bother you," try “I imagine that was upsetting at the time. How do you feel about it now?”

6. Recognize how emotion affects understanding.

Emotions have a big influence on our ability to communicate. If you feel yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, ask for clarification. "I may not be understanding you correctly, it sounds like you’re saying….is that what you mean?" You’ll often uncover unrelated details and circumstances that influence the speaker, and have nothing to do with the actual topic.

By learning to listen, you’ll help create a healthier and more productive environment at work, and at home. Active listening helps you explore how you perceive yourself and others, and how those perceptions influence your communication style, and your ability to lead, manage, and collaborate.

So the next time you’re having a conversation, remember the simple and profound words I heard backstage many years ago: “Just listen!”


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



Things we like.

Here's a great TED talk on conscious listening from Julian Treasure called 5 ways to listen better.


Things to ponder.


black_i_love_you_oval_decal.jpgYou don't have to hear in order to listen. There are about 70 million deaf people who use sign language as their first language or mother tongue.

Each country has one or more sign languages, although different sign languages can share linguistic roots the same way spoken languages do.

In linguistic terms, sign languages are as rich and complex as any spoken language, despite the common misconception that they are not real languages. Sign languages contain the fundamental complex properties that exist in spoken languages – like grammar, dialects, idioms, slang, and other characteristics.

You can learn 100 basic signs in American Sign Language here.