How to Become a First Class Listener

Listening Tips
Written by Ellen Goldman

I believe we are all hungry for someone to truly listen and hear us. Whether you are doing business, conversing with family or friends, or having a casual conversation with an acquaintance you run into in the store, practice these tips, and you will be amazed at the out pouring of warmth you will receive from others.

While on the NJ Transit Train traveling to Manhattan one  week, I was thinking about the topic, the art of active listening. Looking around I noticed loads of people using various forms of communication. Many were texting, some on cell phones, a mom was talking to her son who had on his iPod earphones, and still another man was talking to his companion, who seemed to be listening, but was also turning the pages of his newspaper.

What is wrong with this picture? It struck me as odd that I was exploring the topic of listening, but does anyone actually do that anymore? In our world of instant messaging, email, text, BBM, faxes, and voice mail, there is no lack of ways to “talk” with others, but how do we know if we are really being heard?

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I got to my meeting, and was instantly drawn to the woman I had my appointment with. She greeted me with a giant smile and hug. After months of emails back and forth, we were both happy to finally meet face to face. I was so surprised when the first question out of her mouth was, “How is your father doing?” She remembered that I had to cancel our first scheduled appointment because my dad had been ill.

She then sat down, looked me in the eye, and listened quietly while I filled her in. I could feel her warmth, empathy and understanding without her saying a word. We then moved on to discuss the reason for our meeting, and our exchange was wonderful. I left feeling that we had both heard each other, understood what we were both looking for, and excited about the prospect of possibly doing business together in the future.

Although the business opportunity was quite interesting, part of my excitement came from the feeling that I really like this woman, and she is someone I could trust. She is a master at the art of active listening. And I am one who believes that all relationships could be enhanced if we practiced this skill more often.

[Tweet “We are all hungry for someone to truly listen and hear us.”]

I believe we are all hungry for someone to truly listen and hear us. Whether you are doing business, conversing with family or friends, or having a casual conversation with an acquaintance you run into in the store, practice these tips, and you will be amazed at the out pouring of warmth you will receive from others.

1. Make sure the time is right to concentrate on your conversation. Don’t attempt to have a meaningful conversation if you are busy with something else. A simple statement, such as, “I really want to hear what you have to say, but need to concentrate on what I am doing right now. Can we set a time to talk when I can give you my full attention?” will relay the message that you care

2. Make eye contact. Resist the urge to look around at other people and things in the environment. By looking directly at the speaker, you will convey the message, “What you are saying is really important to me.”

3. Quiet your inner voice and truly focus on what the other is saying. Rather than think about what you will say next or how you will respond, really listen to the words and meaning of the person you are speaking with.

4. Reflect back what you heard to make sure you understand correctly or ask questions. Say your friend is speaking about the overload of work at the office, try responding, “It sounds like you have more to do than is possible within one day.” Your friend will then know that you have heard and understand what he/she is talking about. “Tell me more.” conveys your desire to get the full picture, and allows the speaker to further explore his/her thoughts.

5. Listen for the emotion and feelings behind the words. In the above example, if you state, “You seem overwhelmed and frustrated.” you will validate the speaker’s feelings or learn more about what is going on. You may be surprised by an answer, such as, “No, actually I am angry at myself for procrastinating working on this project when I first found out about it.”

6. Remove any words or body language that might appear you are making a judgment about what is being said. Respect the right of others to see the world differently than you do.

7. Don’t multi-task your conversations. Reading the newspaper, looking at emails, glancing at the TV, or anything else that takes your focus off the speaker sends the message, “What you have to say is really not that important to me.”

8. Stay engaged and fully present. Try your best to push away distracting thoughts and really pay attention. If you do find yourself unable to concentrate, admit it, apologize, and reschedule for a better time.

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?

I have had to learn that the world we live in today is moving at rapid speed, and most individuals are dealing with multiple distractions all day long. This has often made it challenging to have meaningful and focused conversations with friends, family and colleagues. Cell phones ringing, text messages and emails coming in 24/7 pulls attention away from the conversation. When others’ attention wavers, I’ve learned to accept that this is not personal. No one is deliberately being rude or disrespectful to me.     It’s just really hard to turn off the constant noise and delay the immediate gratification of looking to see who else is wanting their attention. I am still working on accepting this, and learning to be calm and patient when interrupted.

What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?

I truly appreciate my ability to focus and be fully engaged when with others. I can shut down my electronics when in conversation, turn away from my computer when on the phone, and ignore rings and beeps while working.

In the mean time, I am still working on appreciating all the benefits of the new form of communicating, and learning to use it to my advantage rather than detriment.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?

When I am able to help clients learn, practice and embrace the power of full engagement, it is incredibly rewarding. If a client shares an experience where they had a deep and meaningful conversation and were able to fully attend without distraction, it brings me great satisfaction. What makes me most proud is when my daughters ignore their texts or FB updates while we are together, or when I call and they quickly say, “Mom, I’m with my friend right now. Is everything alright? Can I call you later?”

We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth–we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are–your Identity?

I am “not so perfectly” patient. I do admit, I feel myself get pissed off when someone I am with is multi-tasking me! I try hard not to, but feel myself get annoyed when friends answer a text message when we are together, or my husband reads the newspaper when I am trying to talk with him. So sometimes I imperfectly make my feelings known and come out sounding a bit snotty, rather than just calmly stating my emotions. I do keep trying, but I guess I will just continue to be the technology police.

“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!)  Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?

I love my ability to listen well!

About the author

Ellen Goldman

Ellen Goldman created EllenG Coaching to help overextended business professionals and entrepreneurs who are worried about their health and happiness, and are either exhausted, burnt out, out of shape, overweight, or all of the above! Through her coaching programs, motivational talks and online courses, she shows clients how to integrate health into their busy lifestyles with simple, small steps that lead to massive change, resulting in greater energy, focus, productivity and happiness every day. With 30 plus years experience in the health and fitness industries, working as a personal trainer and certified wellness coach while raising her family, Ellen knows first hand that you do not need to sacrifice your health and happiness to have a successful career. Her mission is to help others thrive both personally and professionally. To learn more about Ellen and her wellness programs, visit

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