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How to be a Better Listener

Listening“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the word “listen”,  as it’s my One Word for 2015.  The questions I’ve been asking myself are, “What does it mean to really listen?”, “How can I be a better listener?” and “What gets in the way of listening for me?”.


I believe the above quote, by Stephen Covey speaks to what it means to really listen.  It’s about going into the conversation with the intention of understanding what the other person is saying.

When I was in coach training I remember learning about the 3 levels of listening.  Understanding these levels can be very useful when it comes to being a better listener.

Level 1 is subjective listening.  When you are operating from level 1 listening the main thought in your mind is, “How does this relate to me?”.  An example of level 1 listening may look something like this:

Speaker: “I had a really hard time falling asleep last night!  I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I had to do this week.”

Listener: “I know, I hate when that happens to me!  I end up so exhausted the next day that I’m not as effective as I could be.”

Level 2 is objective listening.  At this level, the listener is completely focused on the speaker.  They have turned down the volume on their own thoughts and are really trying to hear what the speaker is saying.  An example of level 2 listening might be:

Speaker: “I had a really hard time falling asleep last night! I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I had to do this week.”

Listener:  “I’m sorry that happened to you, what time did you finally get to sleep?”

Level 3 is intuitive listening.  Here, the listener is paying attention not only to the actual words, but also noticing tone of voice, energy level, feelings, etc.  In essence, the listener is also paying attention to what’s NOT being said.  For example:

Speaker: “I had a really hard time falling asleep last night! I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I had to do this week.”

Listener:  “It sounds like you must have a lot going on!  It also sounds like you may be feeling a little overwhelmed and stressed out.  What were you able to do to finally get back to sleep?”


At the end of the level 3 example, the listener asked a question.  This is a great way to be a better listener.  Ask questions!  It lets the speaker know you are fully engaged and are interested in what they are saying.


Good listeners also pay attention to body language – both their own as well as the person they are listening to.

Good listeners make eye contact, they nod occasionally, and every now and then add a “yes” or “right” to the conversation.  They also watch the other person’s body language.  They pay attention to the other person’s posture and facial expressions as both of these will give them clues about how the other person is feeling and what they are really trying to express.


Finally, people who are excellent listeners understand what gets in the way of them fully listening.  I’ve come up with a list of things I know get in my way.  These include:

  1. Multitasking – i.e. watching TV while I’m talking to someone on the phone, checking my texts while I’m talking to someone in person, or playing a game on my iPad while my child is trying to tell me something about their day
  2. Having more than one conversation going at a time – It used to be that if I was choosing a seat at a large table, I’d pick the middle spot so I could be involved in all of the conversations.  What I’ve learned over time is that this no longer works for me.  I now pick an end seat so there are less conversations going on around me and I can more fully focus on those closest to me.
  3. A subject I’m not interested in – This is a tricky one for me because I love to learn new things, but when a subject becomes boring to me or too complicated for me to understand (like maybe nuclear physics) I know I have a tendency to zone out.
  4. Physical discomfort – pain, hunger, being too hot or too cold, needing to go to the bathroom, being tired.  All of these can get in the way of being the best listener I can be.
  5. Not being fully present – when I have a lot of my own stuff going on and my mind is racing, I have a hard time not letting my mind wander..
  6. Making assumptions – My mind likes to try to figure things out.  I sometimes assume I know what the person is going to say next.  I believe this gets in the way of me listening fully

When you know what gets in your way when it comes to listening, you know what to look out for.  What would go on your list?  I’d love it if you’d list them in the comments section below 🙂

If you want to be a better listener, I believe that just like everything, the more you practice, the better you get. Pay attention to what level you are operating out of, ask questions, be aware of body language, and be mindful of the things that could get in the way.


Laura Hall is an iPEC certified life coach whose business, Hall Coaching, was established in 2009 with the vision of waking women up from the nightmares of “How did I get here?” and, “Is this as good as it gets?”, so that they can begin creating and living the life of their real dreams, hopes and desires. She offers both one on one as well as group coaching services. She can be reached at [email protected] or check out her website at www.hallcoaching.com














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