Five Things Good Listeners Do Differently

Two women speaking with each other practicing good listening skills

More than 6.1 million job descriptions list good communication as one of their top soft skills. And without good listening, communication loses most of its impact. After all, if no one’s listening, what are you actually communicating? 

As a result, listening and communication are inexorably linked. Good listeners can accurately receive and interpret communication. They’re also sought-after friends, colleagues, employees, and partners. And engaging in good listening tactics will promote more positive interactions in communication, conflict resolution, and understanding. 

What is Listening (active vs. passive)? 

Listening is defined as “hearing something with thoughtful attention” by Merriam-Webster, but in the broader communication world listening is broken down into two categories: active and passive

Listening is defined as “hearing something with thoughtful attention.”

Active listening means “giving your full attention to a person who is speaking” whereas passive listening is less intentional. Passive listening is a bit of a misnomer in and of itself because listening by definition involves actively understanding or trying to understand what’s being communicated. Passive listening practices are really defined as hearing or “the physical process referring to sounds that enter your ears.” In short, passive listening is hearing but not understanding.

Becoming a better listener— and therefore communicator — involves intentional choices during conversations and interactions. Good listeners are active listeners.

Why is Listening Important? 

Beyond being an in-demand soft skill among employers, good listening promotes positive personal interactions and can improve your relationships with friends and partners. In short, listening is important because it develops empathy and understanding. So much so that there’s an entire branch of “empathetic listening” devoted to the practice. 

Developing your skills as a good listener can only make you more marketable and more appealing to those in your field. Workplace interactions are often about the message behind the message, so to speak, and engaging with better active listening practices will help you get hired and promote upward mobility in the long run. In a People Management article from 2018, professor of leadership Karlien Vanderheyden argues that listening is so important in leadership that “a manager who’s a bad listener is a bad manager.”

The corporate world has long lauded this soft skill and it gets no less attention in the world of personal relationships. Most experts agree that listening to gain understanding leads to better interpersonal relationships

Five Skills on How to be the Best Listener

So how do you actually become a better listener? Most sources agree there are many ways to develop good listening skills, but the most important ones can be summarized below:

1. Create a safe environment.

Creating a safe environment for active listening can include things like removing phones, laptops, and other distractions. It may also include adjusting the location of the conversation. For example, if you’re meeting with someone to resolve conflict it might be beneficial to have a third-party mediator involved or meet at a neutral location. 

Safe environments promote honest responses and better mindsets for the parties entering into the communication.

2. Reserve judgment and suspend preconceptions.

This might be the most difficult skill to gain when it comes to active listening because every individual brings certain biases, experiences, and reactions to conversations. Beyond that, most people think they’re better listeners than they actually are, which makes this skill even trickier to master. However, for those reasons it’s all the more important to practice while listening to others.

No one wants to feel like their communication is promoting judgment in the listener. Judgment includes offering fixes prematurely, sharing unwanted opinions, or interjecting unnecessarily. Instead, good listeners tend to make suggestions

Feedback is inevitable in communication, and it’s a sign that you’re actively listening but you want to make sure your feedback is in the correct form. Suggestions take the edge out of premature fixes and unwanted opinions while still providing some information to the other party.

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3. Respond with nonverbal cues.

Imagine you’re speaking with someone and they start tapping their foot, checking their watch, and looking at the door. The logical conclusion from these nonverbal signals is they’re in a hurry, don’t want to be involved in the current interaction, and have somewhere else to be. All of which were communicated via nonverbal behaviors or body movement.

The 1960 study conducted by professor Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D., of UCLA established the 7-38-55 rule stating that 7% of communication is verbal, with 38% and 55% being nonverbal. Mehrabian’s rule rings true today, and with more virtual communication than ever, it’s even more important to understand how nonverbal communication can make or break good listeners. Nonverbal cues like eye contact and appropriate reaction to their words will make the individuals you’re speaking with feel heard. 

4. Listen to understand.

Good listeners prize this skill. They want to understand the person or people they’re interacting with more than they want to be heard themselves. Active listening requires an unselfish, non-promotional posture where the other person leaves the conversation feeling more positive than when they started. This is a key factor in authentic communication and good listeners are always looking to improve in how they listen to understand rather than listening to respond. 

5. Connect emotionally.

Across the board, good listeners have mastered connection within their conversations. Connecting emotionally with the individual you’re communicating with means you are:

  • Willing to understand them.
  • Interested in their take on issues.
  • More capable of suggesting appropriately. 

This skill promotes one of the most important feelings in others: trust. Someone who can connect emotionally with you has automatically exchanged some trust with you and is more likely to share authentically. 

Good listeners practice all of the above skills on a regular basis in both their professional and personal interactions. One of the best ways to continue practicing good listening is by continuing your education with a bachelor's degree. PLNU offers multiple programs that help you gain listening tactics and skills, including a Strategic Communication B.A. 

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