Are you blocking conversation when you think you’re listening?

Your boss wants you to listen attentively (not just when he speaks). Good listening is critical for building trust, within a team and without. So whether it’s with your boss, a colleague, a customer, partner or vendor, take the cotton out of your ears!

If we were playing baseball, good listening would be first base. To hit a home run, first you need to listen, because there’s no home-run that doesn’t pass through first-base and then remember, act, and follow through. Your listening skills are the foundation for the home run.

How hard could it be? Well, in my experience, easy or hard, good listeners are exceedingly rare. That makes this one of the best ways for you to stand out. Here’s how to polish your listening skills:

  1. Give your full attention to the speaker. Stay focused – think about what’s being said. You think many times faster than most people speak, so use the extra time to understand and organize what you are hearing.
  2. Don’t interrupt – especially if you are being attacked or there is an emotional charge in the speaker. If you interrupt, the speaker will not ‘feel heard’ and will just repeat again and again.
  3. Make eye contact
  4. Use good body language – face the person, uncross your arms and legs, lean slightly forward and avoid fidgeting with hands or feet.
  5. Reflect back on what you’ve heard – paraphrase like this: “So you’re saying that…” and then ask if you got it right: “Have I got it?”
  6. Encourage the speaker to tell more – say: “Oh?” and then stay quiet. Learn to accept and appreciate a little bit of silence in a conversation even if it’s uncomfortable for you at first.
  7. Avoid conversation blockers. Here are 7 different ways of taking the wind out of someone else’s sail. They invalidate the feelings of the person speaking and will make sure the speaker doesn’t feel heard. These are trust breakers:
  • Opinion giving – ex: “Don’t worry about him, he wastes everyone’s time and no one pays attention to what he says, trust me.”
  • Criticizing/judging - ex: “You’re still working on that? You’re such a perfectionist! I don’t see how you’ll ever get anything done at that pace.”
  • Preaching – ex: “You shouldn’t let anything distract you – you should really manage your time better.”
  • Fixing – ex: “You tell him to mind his own business. If he doesn’t, I’ll have a talk with him.”
  • Comparing - ex: “You did what? This never happened with John, he never made any mistakes.”
  • Denial - ex: “I know you don’t mean that. You couldn’t possibly feel that way.”
  • Change the focus to yourself – ex: “That’s great! I remember when I won the spelling bee in second grade and…”

Can you see that there are endless ways to screw up as a listener? Conversation blocking is really much easier and more natural for most people than good listening is. How many times have you been distracted in a restaurant or an airplane by someone talking too loudly who won’t let his conversation partner say three words? That’s human nature, but we can do better.

Best advice for changing your listening habits?

  1. Understand attentive listening is a precious gift you can give at any moment, a gift that will enrich your relationships and your life.
  2. Assume you are not the smartest person in the room and try to learn something new from everyone you meet.

Are you a parent? There is a great book for teaching listening skills to your kids: Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Naomi Drew.  Highly recommended.

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  • avatar

    luis valdez March 20, 2014, 9:31 am

    listening is a very important skill without this skill, life can get a little complicated for u later in life.

  • avatar

    Melissa_Rod February 17, 2014, 8:16 pm

    Listening attentively is an extremely important skill, and I find that living in a society where instant gratification is the norm, sometimes we aren’t the best listeners because we would rather the person get straight to the point, or we would rather give our opinion than listen to others. Strong leaders who listen attentively facilitate open communication in their work environments which encourages better collaboration and ultimately effectiveness.

    The tips for “polishing your listening skills” described in this guide are excellent and have given me better insight into what I need to do better among my co workers and even with my own students. Reflecting back and encouraging the speaker are tips I am going to immediately begin trying to implement in my own day-to-day operations. These tips will definitely help me be a more active listener, and an overall better leader.


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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.