How to Be a Good Listener | The BridgeMaker

How to Be a Good Listener

By on Jul 17, 2013

be a good listener

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. – Epictetus

When I was a young sales representative for a publishing company, I learned an important sales skill: The 80/20 conversation rule.

This approach reminded me to speak 20 percent of the time while granting the customer or prospective customer the opportunity to speak the other 80 percent of the time. The purpose of this tactic was simple – by doing more listening than talking, I would be in a better position to hear their needs and then understand how to meet them.

This listening method resulted in more sales.

As a father of four children and a husband for the last 28 years, I’ve had to do a lot of listening in that role as well. While I haven’t always observed the 80/20 conversation rule at home, I’ve learned that if I want to connect and help my family, then I need to make sure that I’m not just hearing what they are saying, but I’m listening as well.

This listening method has resulted in healthier relationships.

However, being a good listener isn’t a natural ability. It takes intention, practice and being fully present in the conversation. The Chinese understand this concept the best. In fact, the Chinese character to listen is made up of three characters that mean eyes, ears and heart. The Chinese believe listening is a whole-body experience.

After speaking with thousands of customers; hearing Mary Beth share her fondest dreams, and talking with my children about life’s most important lessons, I’m learning that being a good listener is more of an art than it is a science.

If becoming a good listener is a skill that would help your business or improve your personal relationships, try listening with your eyes, ears and heart, too:

Listen with Your Eyes
  • Give your eyes to your conversation partner.
  • Show expression when the cue is given.
  • The eyes are the window to the soul. Reveal your empathy love and encouragement with your eyes.
  • Pay attention to your gestures, body language and posture. Try to demonstrate a sense of solidarity with your conversation partner by aligning your nonverbal communication gestures with their words.
Listen with Your Ears
  • Seek understanding by acknowledging what is being said.
  • Encourage your partner to say more.
  • Explore more of what is being said by asking how and why questions.
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification. Don’t assume what is being said, make certain you understand so the conversation remains productive.
  • Listen like a sponge. Let your partner experience you soaking in the words one at a time.
Listen with Your Heart
  • Provide a warm safe place. Let your partner know there are no judgments waiting – just support.
  • Know when to touch; when to hug and know when to let the tears fall.
  • Never betray what’s been said. Treat the conversation like a sacred agreement.
  • Reflect back your partner’s words with love, patience and kindness.
No Better Moment

When the day is over, there’s no better moment than when Mary Beth and I talk about what’s happening. It is in these moments that we talk about the big and the small pieces of our lives.

Everything from the details about an upcoming vacation to how we can help one of our children through a difficult situation is discussed. These are the moments when life feels the most important to me.

So, being a good listener with my eyes, ears and heart isn’t something I do as a courtesy – it’s something I do so I don’t miss a word of the wonderful life my wife and I are sharing together.

The BridgeMaker Founder Alex Blackwell is the author of Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender. Join the community to connect, share and inspire: Twitter | Facebook | More Posts

  • Fran Sorin

    Hi Alex- This subject is close to my heart – as I think you might know~ If we were taught how to listen from the time we were children, it would be a non-issue – and our world would be a quieter and more meaningful one. Fran

    • More peace and love for sure Fran – thanks so much for sharing.

  • Hi Alex. Listening isn’t the easiest skill for all us and I regularly have to work on it. So thanks for the additional tips here. When we communicate, we want to share more so speak more. But being like a sponge really allows us to understand the person we are speaking with.

    I guess one thought is to look at the intention behind our communication. If the thought is more understanding and building a relationship, listen. If it’s to show how much you know and make it all about you, talk. lol As mentioned, trying to do more listening than talking. The tip on listening with your heart and listening without judgment is something I hope to incorporate more when listening.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective Vishnu. You are correct that each conversation is unique, as is our participation in them. Becoming aware of how we need to contribute to the conversation is an important factor.

  • I always feel as if I’d just had a conversation with you when I read your posts Alex. A conversation from your heart to mine. What a wonderful gift you have. Thank you for sharing it with the world.


    • What a wonderful thing to say Elle. You just warmed my heart a little more. Thank you!

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