How to Improve Your Listening Skills

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Here is a tool you can use to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of your listening skills.

There are times when all of us listen effectively especially when the stakes are high for us. For instance we usually listen well when a boss is giving us performance feedback or the highway patrol person is giving us a ticket.

Other times our listening skills are less than stellar. We listen with half an ear, the other person has a sense that we are not fully engaged especially at the emotional level, and really we don’t ‘get it’ as far as they are concerned.

At the end of the day we can all improve our listening skills.

Here is a checklist that I use in my Cross-Cultural Communication and Executive Development Training Workshops.

Effective listening is a core competency we need in order to navigate the unfamiliar waters of other cultures. And along with empathy it is a crucial skill in leadership effectiveness.

How to Use the List

1.  Tell someone you trust that you are wanting to improve your listening skills

2.  Ask them to observe you in a group situation and rate you on how well you listen

3.  Spend time with the observer going through the checklist and identify areas where you need to improve your listening skills.

4.  Evaluate each area as 1) Highly effective, 2) Effective, or 3) Needs Improvement

Listening Areas to Assess


Eye contact. You consistently made eye contact in a natural, attentive manner. You did not appear distracted by, for example, fidgeting, looking around the room, or staring.

Body language. Your relaxed body (for example, open arms or arms at your sides; eyes focused on the other) invited the person into a conversation. You did not shut them out or show you were distracted (by, for example, yawning frequently, staring off into space, or having your arms crossed in a defensive manner).

Not interrupting. You let the person finish a thought before speaking. You did not appear on the brink of wanting to say something.


Door openers. You invited the person to express himself or herself honestly. For example: “You say it was a difficult situation; do you want to elaborate?”

Attentive silence. You sat quietly and attentively. You were not afraid to sit together in silence. You did not break that silence with a nervous statement or question.

Occasionally asked open-ended questions. You did not solicit yes/no answers. If the person said, “I don’t like my job” you responded, for example, with: “What about your job don’t you like?”


Summarizing. Using the other person’s words, you showed you understood what the person said by making a brief, summary statement.

Paraphrasing. Using your words,you showed you understood what the person said by making a brief, summary statement.


Accurate empathy. You showed that you were aware, understood, and appreciated how the other person felt. You showed that you understood the situation from the other person’s point of view.

Reflecting the other’s feelings. You reflected back (or “mirrored”) how you interpreted the other’s emotions or reactions by saying, for example, “You seem really hurt by the negative feedback you received.

 Your comments are valued.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to How to Improve Your Listening Skills

  1. Improving your listening skills helps you both professionally and personally. While it may take some practice, improving your listening skills can be done with persistence and attention to the task at hand.Be close enough to the person you are listening to so you can hear clearly.Be aware of gestures. This includes facial expressions, body language and tone.Direct your eyes to the person talking to you. Ask questions to verify everything that you do not understand and write down the answers.

    • cedricj says:

      As usual you are spot on with your comments Zareen. Listening deeply to someone is the highest respect we can show them. Thanks for weighing in.


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