The Art of Listening

The Art of Listening

I enjoy writing pieces for this blog but couldn’t really think of anything I wanted to write about today so I scrolled back through my archive and came upon a piece I wrote a while back on “listening” so I thought I’d revisit this subject today.

Listening is a topic I’ve been thinking about recently in the monthly learning I do with Centre 10 where, this month, we were looking at the Seven Barriers to Listening and reflecting on where we encounter these barriers in our clients as well as when we notice them in ourselves. I’ll write more about these barriers on another occasion.

Active listening is a great skill and it can take years to master. Sometimes we think we are listening but are we really?

We can all literally hear the same words being spoken but we interpret those words via our filtering systems which have developed over many years and which are influenced by our personal experiences, values and beliefs.

Why do we listen? We listen to:

  • Obtain information
  • Learn
  • For enjoyment
  • To understand

How much what what you actually hear do you think that you remember? Research suggests that we only remember 25-50% of what we actually hear so we either have to hope that we’re remembering the important stuff OR we have to work on our listening skills so that we can retain more information.

Good listening skills require a high level of self-awareness.  It is important to practice ‘active listening’ i.e. to make a conscious effort to both hear the words being said and to understand the total message.  It is also very important to let the other person know that you are listening; otherwise, it can feel like talking to a brick wall.

There are five key elements to active listening

  1. Pay attention.  
  • Give the speaker your undivided attention
  • Look directly at the speaker
  • Put aside distracting thoughts
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors
  • ‘Listen’ to the speaker’s body language
  • Refrain from side conversations if you are in a group setting.
  1. Show that you are listening.
  • Nod occasionally (NB this does not necessarily imply agreement)
  • Smile and use other facial expressions
  • Note your posture and show it to be open and inviting
  • Encourage the speaker with small verbal comments e.g. ‘yes’ and ‘uh huh’.
  1. Provide feedback
  • Our personal filters, assumptions, judgements and beliefs effect what we hear.  As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said.
  • Reflect and ask questions
  • Paraphrase e.g. ‘What I’m hearing is…….’, ‘Sounds like you’re saying…..’
  • Ask questions to clarify e.g. ‘ When you say……what do you mean?’
  • Periodically summarize the speaker’s points.
  1. Defer Judgement
  • Interrupting wastes time and frustrates the speaker
  • Allow the speaker to finish
  • Don’t interrupt with counter – arguments.
  1. Respond Appropriately
  • Active listening is a model for respect and understanding
  • You are gaining information and perspective
  • You add nothing by attacking the speaker or putting them down
  • Be candid, open and honest in your response
  • Assert your opinions respectfully
  • Treat the other person as he/she would want to be treated.
  • If it is especially important to remember what has been said to you or if you are being given precise instructions then take notes


  • It takes practice and determination to be an active listener
  • Be deliberate and remember that your goal is to truly hear what is being said
  • Set aside all else while you listen
  • Ask questions/reflect/paraphrase
  • If you do not do these things then what the speaker says and what you hear can be very different.
  • Take notes if necessary.

So what are YOU going to listen to today? Personally, I will be listening to the birds singing on my lunchtime dog walk then I plan to listen to a podcast on goal setting whilst driving to my weekly riding lesson where I will listen to my coach and try and learn from what she shares with me. Later I will probably be listening to some music for pure enjoyment.

Photo credit: Sophie Callahan via the Small & Supercharges Mastermind group.

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