How to Be a Good Listener

The modern world is filled with noise, so the best way to be a good listener is by using your voice. Experience has shown that people can easily tune out when they are not engaged in conversation, but being present and attentive will break through barriers of language or culture.

Being a good listener is one of the most important skills you can have in any relationship. In order to be a good listener, it’s important to know what kind of questions to ask and how to listen. Read more in detail here: how to be a good listener in a relationship.

Vintage man showing gesture of listening.

Tony Valdes contributes this guest article as an editor’s note.

I chose SPC 3350, a college course titled “Listening,” taught by the forebodingly named Dr. Paine, as part of my bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and communications. I’ll confess that when I initially sat down in class, I was apprehensive. Is listening, after all, something that we have to learn? Yes, according to Dr. Paine, listening can be learnt. He made a point that has stayed with me ever since: there is a substantial difference between hearing and listening, and the two terms should never be used interchangeably. Hearing is a biological activity that occurs whether you consciously instruct yourself to do it or not, much like breathing or blinking. On the other hand, listening is a cerebral activity. It requires deliberation, effort, and repetition. “Listening is the act of receiving, listening to, and assigning meaning to auditory and visual inputs,” Dr. Paine said.

And a man’s ability to do it properly may make all the difference.

Let’s compare it to something more likely to get our attention. We’ve all had the experience of reading through numerous pages of a book only to find we haven’t the foggiest notion what we’ve just read. We noticed the words on the pages but didn’t take the time to cognitively comprehend them. To put it another way, there is a distinction between seeing and reading. As long as your eyes are open, you can see. It’s a biological activity that happens in the background. Reading, on the other hand, demands some mental effort. It is a process of active meaning-making.

We have a propensity to glance at the words but never really “read” what our family, friends, and coworkers are saying when it comes to listening. Poor listening habits, on the other hand, may be overcome. The cliché of the tuned-out man does not need to apply to us as we strive to become better men.

We’ll look at the underappreciated importance of listening in our everyday interactions, the three degrees of listening, and the advantages of honing this talent to its greatest level in this first edition of a three-part series.

Listening from a Different Angle

You may be amazed at how much we are compelled to listen to on a daily basis. Despite the fact that we have gained many other important skills in our lives via a mix of education and experience, relatively little time has been allocated to educating us as listeners. The irony is that listening is the most useful and often utilized talent we may have in both our personal and professional life.

Let’s put it in context by looking at some of the most prominent features of communication. Even though most of us have spent at least twelve years learning how to write properly, it is a talent that is only employed in around 9% of the typical person’s daily conversation. Even though we spend six to eight years in school learning to read, it only accounts for 16 percent of our communication. Speaking gets a year’s worth of attention, maybe two if we’re fortunate, yet it accounts for just 30% of our conversation. However, listening is generally given less than a half-year of formal instruction, despite the fact that it accounts for 45 percent of our everyday communication.


Our society seems to be engulfed by the illusion that hearing and listening are equivalent. Those figures aren’t intended to diminish the value of other areas of our communication; rather, they point to a serious flaw in our schooling that, with a little work, can be corrected and offer huge and immediate rewards for us.

Various Listening Levels

During each given engagement, we have three degrees of listening to select from. The first step in knowing how to modify our behaviors is to define each level.

Level 1: Listening to Words

Many of us default to this level in the mistaken belief that we are listening. It often puts us in the awkward situation of misinterpreting a message, leaping to conclusions, or simply failing to retain the information minutes after it is delivered. We are sometimes faintly aware that we are to responsible, but we attempt to shift responsibility to the speaker by stating that he or she was not fascinating or engaging. The most concerning aspect of this degree of hearing is our emotional and mental separation from the speaker. Most of the time, we can get away with it, but when the speaker is a loved one, our poor listening communicates–whether we mean it or not–that we put little value on that person.

Level 2: Sporadic Listening

We may be able to tune in briefly when we are conscious that we are not listening well, or when we are in a circumstance where we know that attention on the message is critical, but with so little formal training in listening, the effort may be challenging, resulting in “spurts” of listening. Another important factor to this level is our propensity to look for the next chance to speak out rather than genuinely listening to the other person’s speech. This, together with a slew of other issues that we’ll cover in the second part of this article, may lead to listening in fits and starts.

Empathetic Listening (Level 3)

This is the best situation. We have the ability to put aside internal and external distractions in order to listen without being judged or interrupted. We are emotionally and psychologically involved in the speaker and offer vocal and nonverbal responses. Empathetic communication is a collaborative effort in which both parties must contribute. In our culture, we place a lot of emphasis on the speaker’s role and how to play it in an interesting, engaging, effective, and efficient manner; however, I would argue that when we are in the role of the listener, we should consider it our job to put in 51 percent of our effort into the interaction. To put it another way, the listener should be doing the hard work.

The Advantages of Learning to Listen

The benefits of practicing empathic listening in my own life have been immediate. Here are a few of the more notable advantages that Dr. Paine’s teachings provided:


Respect for one another. In my AP English Language and Composition class, I teach argumentation, and one of the principles I discuss is the Rogerian Method. Listening to your opponent’s point of view is important in this kind of arguing, as is checking that you have correctly received what has been stated before presenting your own. It is, in theory, an underlying appeal to “The Golden Rule,” which states that you should treat people as you would want them to treat you. When you respect someone enough to listen to them and aggressively indicate that you have done so, they are more likely to reciprocate with the same regard and civility. This is true at work as well as in your personal life.

Dispute Resolution Most dissatisfied individuals simply want to know that someone has heard their problem, whatever it is. Even the most agitated individuals will be diffused to some extent if they feel you have absorbed what they have said. And if they want more than simply to express their frustrations, listening to them puts you in a better position to address the problem to your best potential.

Learning. One of the most efficient methods to continue learning is to listen while you go about your regular activities. It helps you to notice things and chances that you may otherwise overlook, as well as prepare you to ask better questions when the time comes. And the capacity to ask smart questions is valuable–as I’ve told my students, knowing the answer isn’t always as essential as asking the question. In the third installment of this series, we’ll look at how to ask smart questions.

Success in your career. Fortune 500 firms’ most common criticism is that many workers have poor listening skills. Good listeners are more receptive to new ideas, more inventive, and give superior customer service, according to these business titans. It has also been shown that good listening reduces stress and allows for better handling of problematic individuals. What more could a successful company want of a worker? This is particularly true when a promotion is on the table. As we saw earlier, most jobs need us to spend 45 percent of our time listening; this number rises to 55 percent as we go up the professional ladder to positions of more influence. Finally, when the 15 wealthiest Americans were asked what advise they would offer to an ordinary American striving to fortune, one of the replies was to learn to listen well.

It’s a hit with the ladies. I’m not sure what more to say about this one. A guy who knows how to listen is attractive to women. But keep in mind that just because you’re listening doesn’t mean you have to jump in and “correct” anything she’s saying. She doesn’t want you to give her a to-do list or hurry out of the room to rescue the day; she wants you to connect with her.


That seems to be more than enough food for thought for today. We’ll look at some practical strategies to start refining our listening skills in the next installment of this series.

Pay attention! Part 1 of the series: Mastering the Manly Skill of Paying Attention Part 2: 15 Ways to Improve Our Listening Skills Part III: How to Ask and Answer Good Questions

Listen to our podcast with renowned TED speaker Julian Treasure for additional advice on how to become a better listener (and speaker):




Watch This Video-

The “how to be a good listener book” is a guide on how to be a good listener. It includes tips on how to listen better and how to avoid distractions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are 5 ways to be a good listener?

A: Here are some great ways to be a good listener.
Be curious about what the person is saying, ask questions if you are unsure of something that they say, make eye contact and really show them that you care about them by looking into their eyes when speaking with them instead of staring at your phone or tablet screen.

How can I train myself to listen better?

A: A great way to train yourself for this is by listening to music with an equalizer app on your device. This gives you the ability to choose what type of frequencies sound best through headphones and earbuds, which will teach you how they should be mixed in order to listen better.

What is the qualities of a good listener?

A: A good listener is a person who listens to you, and takes in what you say. They are interested in your thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences and the things that make up who you are as a person. They ask questions about how they can support you during difficult times of your life or when something bad happens to them too.

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