How to Be a Better Listener: The 6 Principles to Follow (With Video)

November 26, 2018

LinkedIn Learning Instructor Dorie Clark lists 6 cornerstone principles of being a great listener.

There’s a great line from Elizabeth McLeod in her LinkedIn Learning course, Leading Without Formal Authority:

“I'll let you in on a little hidden secret,” McLeod said. “If you focus on mindful listening, you can garner more authority without saying a word.”

Truer words have never been spoken. There’s arguably no better way to form a lasting relationship with someone than by truly listening to them.

And yet, most of us aren’t great listeners. Often, we either don’t listen at all or are just waiting for our chance to respond, instead of listening to understand.

Well, in her LinkedIn Learning course Improving Your Listening Skills, Instructor Dorie Clark wants to help. Within her course, she outlined the six cornerstone principles of being a great listener.

The 6 Cornerstone Principles of Effective Listening

According to Clark, they are:

1. Give silence and space.

The most obvious – people need a space to talk and silence from you when they are talking.

That means giving the person time to talk and/or asking for their opinion. And, while they are talking, it means not interrupting them – almost never does interrupting someone help your case.

2. Maintain eye contact.

Eye contact shows to the person you are engaged. Without it, people are much less likely to open up.

For example, have you ever been talking with someone as they are looking all around the room? It makes you feel small.

Conversely, if the person you are speaking with is making eye contact with you, it makes you feel like they truly are listening. And that'll make you much more likely to say what’s really on your mind.

3. Be mindful of your body language.

If somebody is speaking to you, and you are sitting with your arms crossed in a defensive manner, it’ll make the person feel like their words aren’t getting through. Or, if you are leaning forward aggressively or bobbing around in your chair, it’ll make them feel like you are just waiting for them to stop talking so you can respond.

So, do your best to sit still and have open body language when listening. Also, be mindful of what the speaker's body language is telling you – if their arms are crossed or their feet are pointed at the door, it means they don't feel comfortable and are unlikely to say what's really on their mind.

4. Use empathy by speaking about your failures.

The goal of listening is to understand the other person’s perspective. But, if the person feels like they can’t trust you, they are unlikely to open up and share that perspective.

A good way to bridge that is by revealing your own weaknesses and failures to them. For example, if they are having trouble with a colleague, you can talk about a time you had trouble with a colleague. Or, if a project they led failed, tell them about a time you had a project fail.

Use this sparingly – the goal, after all, is to listen, not to talk. But, if you feel like the person isn't saying what's really on their mind, this is an effective tactic to make them feel more comfortable.

5. Ask open-ended questions.

Advice you’ve probably heard before but it's worth reinforcing – ask open-ended questions whenever possible, instead of ones that require “yes-no” or abbreviated answers.

So, instead of “did the project hit its deadline?” or “what was the NPS of the event?”, ask something like, “what did you think went well?” or “how would you approach this differently next time?”.

“It doesn't give someone much room to elaborate or connect with you if you're only asking a series of yes-or-no questions,” Clark said. “Instead, make sure that you're allowing them room to expound so you can understand the reasons behind what they're saying.”

6. When you don’t agree, ask them to help you understand.

When listening breaks down is when we don’t agree with the person. That’s generally when we tend to interrupt the other person and close off our minds to them.

Fight that by using these three words: “help me understand.” If they are saying something that doesn’t make sense to you, have them explain how they arrived at that. This is exactly when good listening is most important – by understanding views you initially don’t agree with, you'll expand your mind and better connect with the person.

“Before leaping to conclusions, ask for more data,” Clark said. “You might be surprised what you discover.”

Want to learn more? Watch Dorie Clark’s full course, Improving Your Listening Skills.

Topics within the LinkedIn Learning course include: