6 recommendations to make you a good listener.

You can win acclaim as a good listener.

How to be a good listener
Are you a good listener?

‘And the award for Best Listener goes to Christine Pearce!’ The whole church clapped and cheered. It was a quasi-awards night at the end of the year and people were being awarded for outstanding contributions to the members. Half the cheering was because people knew The Lovely Christine was born with 50% hearing loss and the others laughed because they wanted to say, ‘She gets lots of practice listening to her husband.’ But the discerning among them knew that this was no irony.

She has outstanding skills in the art and science of listening. It’s what makes her a much-loved counsellor. Mind you, the field is not all that crowded because the rest of us are generally ridiculous at listening. Hence, one of my favourite quips:

Listening is an unnatural act between consenting adults.

I’ve blogged about this before. Read, Listen, or stage your own train wreck.

How to get a reputation as a good listener.

Recommendation #1: A good listener doesn’t hang with people who will test his/her powers of listening.

This is easier said than done. If it’s your mother or father, or the spouse of an old friend, you are honour-bound to endure. We used to come home from an outing at around 11:00PM where we had left ‘Granny’ (my Mum) to baby sit, and even though dying to get to sleep we would have to listen to her babbling on for an hour or more without taking a breath. It was about what Mrs This had said yesterday, or what Mr That had done last month which reminded her of a time during the war, on a train to Rockhampton in the rain and how the conductor told a story which was probably funnier when he told it and … Oh Dear! I miss her precious little pink face, endearing smile and apple snow dessert, but I don’t miss her talking. It might be why I am not such a good listener even today. Knowing I tire easily and get irritated if the conversation is going nowhere, I keep meetings short where I know I’m going to be babbled at. I’m not too good at conferences, either unless the speaker is on a red hot topic; and funny.

People ask me why I am a professional speaker and I say, ‘It beats the living daylights out of sitting in the audience listening to other people.’

Recommendation #2: A good listener doesn’t finish other people’s sentences.

The World’s Greatest Listener says I am not allowed to do this anymore because her friends don’t like it. I told her they shouldn’t finish my sentences but that became yet another argument I lost.

    ME: Did you read the news item about the Sydney …
    YOU: … the Sydney train crash. Yeah!’
    ME: Hmm. That’s one way I could have finished that sentence but I was planning to say ‘Did you read the news item about the Sydney man who threw his wife out the window because she finished his sentences all the time?’

Recommendation #3: A good listener doesn’t get up in the middle of your sentence to feed the cat.

I’ve seen bad listeners leave a home dinner conversation – without a reason or excusing themselves – to let the dog out, let the dog in, pack up the dinner plates, start washing the dishes, sweep the floor, check email on the computer, play with the kids, flick through a magazine, open the mail … all as if I am not even there. In business consulting or training meetings, they will vanish to the toilet, duck out for a smoke, get up for a coffee, stand up and look out the window, check their messages, answer their messages. I saw one woman in New Zealand get up and milk a cow. (I didn’t. I just wanted to see if you were listening).

Recommendation #4: A good listener manages his or her mobile phone.

A colleague invited me to meet a prospect for coffee. I reckon he took seven calls without excusing himself and ignored me for about 50 minutes of our hour together. I told my friend I wouldn’t be putting in a proposal. His prospect was ridiculous. If you are expecting a baby’s birth or a death notice within the hour, have your phone on the table and tell the person your circumstances and ask if they would mind your taking the call if it should come. Otherwise turn the stupid thing off and let your callers behave as they would if you had been eaten by a shark. If you are showing a report, or sample images on your phone, you will need to discipline yourself not to answer

Recommendation #5: A good listener maintains eye contact.

Do you know people who commit these poor listener crimes? Do you commit them?

  • Eyes wandering to distractions, the TV, an attractive person, a bird in a tree.
  • Checking your watch, or trying to make it look like you are NOT checking your watch.
  • Checking your watch, or trying to make it look like you are NOT checking your watch while pretending to scratch your wrist.
  • Checking your phone for messages, the time, an email, a missed call.
  • Changing the subject back to yourself.
  • Changing the subject entirely.
  • Yawning.
  • Doing a pre-sleep eyelid flutter.

Recommendation #6: A good listener pays attention verbally and visually.

I learned about active listening a long time ago and one day I might be free of all these aforementioned egregious errors and actually get through an entire conversation like a polite good listener. The active listening mnemonic I like is O.A.R.S. (Observe, Attend, Respond, Summarise.)


Watch and pay attention to the facial and vocal signals coming from the other party.


Show a reflected kind of facial gesture and posture.


Grunt along with , Mmmm, and Hmmm, and Oooh! and Hey! and Wow! and Really?
and …


When you get a chance, repeat a bit of the story as if marvelling at it, or querying the other party’s feelings.

Question:What kind of listener are you? Do you share my need to address one of these egregious errors, or are you as guilty as I am on all of them? Please leave a comment.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic or comprise 'ambush marketing' and/or SPAM.

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19 thoughts on “6 recommendations to make you a good listener.

  1. I love it! All of these things are just bad manners. Sadly, these days kids don’t learn manners as a general rule and so they grow up being bad-mannered adults. There are also a lot of people with a sense of entitlement wherein they value their own time over anyone else’s. As a result, if they are not the centre of attention, they are incapable of behaving politely. Meetings are another story. Groan! All chairs should be taught to keep things to the point.

  2. Educating ourselves with our mobile phone – that is something that we notice our younger generation abusing and something that we have to be strong with so that they learn tthis. good tip for now and the future with technology.

    • The mobile phone! Once I had to climb through the fence to Mrs Brown’s house with four pennies in my hand to call my Aunty for her birthday and Mrs Brown would climb back our way to get us to take a birthday call when it was our day. I reckon that would slow a lot of people down. What do you think?

  3. Thanks Colin.
    It’s all too true! Listening is the attitude of a servant – it makes the other person feel important and provides an excellent opportunity to win their heart. I have found that just by listening properly, especially when someone is complaining or confused, actually helps them answer their own questions or organise their thoughts, without me having to assume any responsibility by providing answers.
    I have so much to learn about listening – you have shared very valuable lessons here. Thank you so much!

  4. Guilty as charged. There are times when I do many of the above ‘crimes’ even though I hate them as much as you do. I have definitely got worse as I age – not enough time to listen to everyone else waffle on when I have something to say, and will probably forget if I don’t say it now. [very long sentence, oh dear]
    As a Toastmaster of 13 years where listening is an important aspect, one would think I should be much better (I think I am in meetings, workshops and conferences), however it is in everyday conversation where it falls apart.
    Great article. I really laughed at the truth and vowed to try harder to get it right.

    • Ahhh! So it’s age is it? I just thought the whole world apart from me had suddenly become tiresome. But you’re saying it’s us! I actually think you are right.

  5. Hey Colin, love the way you continue to manage to use humour to make a really serious and important point – at least I think it’s humour.
    Keep up the great work, Allan

  6. Thanks Colin,
    Some really good points here, that I think we can all learn from. I like the O.A.R.S. and in particular the Summarise. Always good when people confirm what you are saying, but it really does mean you have to listen!

  7. I have a finite ability to listen. So I make judgments and some of them are probably wrong. But I cannot listen to all of the rubbish I have to sit through. So I make a judgment and dip out of the stuff that is of no interest. Has the lovely Christine shared with you the secret of patience so we can all hang in there long enough to positively know that listening to this is a waste of time?
    Your Admiring Fan – Mike
    PS My Ipod has a switch that lets me listen at 2x speed.
    Don’t you think people should have the same switch?

  8. Thanks you Colin for telling the whole world about my short comings on my listening capabilities! I intend to make today “Listening Day” and observe and correct as many of my previous errors as I can. Thank you for your ongoing help to make me a better human! Al

    • It was easier to tell the whole world than have to confront you myself because you might not have listened!! And then I would have had to listen back! I love your idea of ‘Listening Day’. Cheers.