Listening FAQ

Q: What is listening?
Listening is a rich, diverse, multi-faceted form of human communication. One way to define it is to say that listening is the art of putting someone else's speaking, thinking, and feeling needs first. This also serves as a guiding principle.

Q: What do I gain personally from being a better listener?
Flexibility and suppleness allow athletes to maximize their strengths and avoid injury. Listening allows you to maximize the impact of your knowledge and avoid arguments.
Leaders need to listen because things happen fast, useful ideas are rare and precious, and nobody likes to give bad news.
You should listen to others the way you want others to listen to you. Being a better listener will give your more meaningful relationships.

Q: What’s wrong with giving people advice?
Advice tends to be intellectual. It can’t take all the other person’s concerns into consideration. And it tends to take initiate away. On the other hand, if you encourage people talk about what they think they should do, they can sometimes come up with new insights or answers. Neither way is inherently better. Rather, you should know when and how to do both.

Q: Are women better listeners?
I think both men and women are flexible and can adapt to different situations. The perception is that men aren’t good listeners. But then they listen just fine to sports games.

Q: How do you know you’ve been heard?
You feel understood.
You feel comfortable talking about your concerns. You don’t feel awkward, or being judged.
The listener anticipates your concerns or the implications of what you’re saying.
You feel better afterwards.
You can also look at the "Listening Rewards" under Listening Tips > Resources.

Q: What are some misconceptions about listening?
Some people feel they’ve never been good listeners, and that they’ll never be good at it.
You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy music or tennis. You don’t have to be special to listen.
Sometimes people also get caught up with techniques. It’s not a staring contest. It’s not a contest to find synonyms for paraphrasing.

Q: What is the secret to listening?
Put the speaker's needs first. Let them tell their story. Help them tell their story.

Q: Why is empathy hard?
First of all, empathy is feeling what someone else is feeling even though the trigger event isn’t happening to you. Empathy can be easy. If you see someone trip and fall, you might gasp, even though you’re not hurt. But if you’ve never been to the moon, for example, then it’s much harder to imagine how that feels.

Q: Why is paying attention like playing poker?
In poker, you have to observe the other players and be aware of your own reactions, while you keep track of the game and think about the odds of winning. When you listen, you have to observe the other person, be aware of your own reactions, keep track of the story, and think about the implications of what you're hearing.

Q: What are the basic listening skills?
Paying attention, understand the other person, asking questions, and showing empathy.

Q: What can businesses do to improve listening?
Listening is like passion and excellence. A strategy for achieving these things has to come from the top. This includes proper resources for training and for measuring results. After you train people, then you want to have good listening a part of email, meetings, and other forms of communication.

Q: Should husbands listen so that their wives don’t get angry?
Yes, they should. It’s even better when they listen just because they care, because they want to know what’s going on, not just because they don’t want to get into trouble. And wives should listen to husbands too.

Q: How can I improve my listening?
First, find a good source that explains the richness and sophistication of listening without sounding either mechanical or vague.
Second, practice and get feedback.

Q: Who are you?
I used to volunteer at a telephone crisis center and I kept an interest in listening.

Q: How has volunteering made you a better listener?
When I was a volunteer, we received training. That’s where I was introduced to a lot of concepts such as paraphrasing, and open-ended questions. I also had the opportunity to speak to some interesting people. That experience is invaluable.