What makes a good listener? Here’s What Great Listeners Do

You know what annoys me the most? When people don’t listen. A person sitting in a meeting off somewhere in their head, their attention scattered somewhere else but in the moment. You know what it looks like. We’ve all done it. It sucks. But you know what sucks more? When it happens one on one.

To me, your ability to add value drops when you don’t listen! Bad listening leads to unclear thinking; in everyone. A good listener can work like a sounding board that helps the other person clarify their thoughts. Well, guess what? That won’t happen if you don’t care to listen.

Another problem…Most people listen to respond. It’s like they have to have the last word. Again, you know what it looks like. It sucks. Listening to respond is really just being selfish, just wanting to get a word in; your word in. You know what’s better? Listening to understand, not just to respond.

Listening to understand is where it starts. Ideally, there has to be trust between people. No trust = very low quality conversation.

In organizations, businesses, companies, leadership lives and dies with trust; because trust is the foundation of leadership. And how does it start? With listening. It’s no accident that any list of great leadership traits includes listening. And a great leader listens more than they talk, so they say more when they do talk.

When someone listens more than they talk, that’s how you know if someone will be a great leader. And these leaders, whether they know it or not, are powerful because the most powerful skill anyone can develop is the ability to get inside people’s minds: a person who truly listens will have the upper hand in influencing another person over someone who doesn’t.

What Great Listeners Actually Do

As I was scrolling through Twitter yesterday, I came across this tweet which mentions a sketchnote from an HBR article titled What Great Listeners Actually Do:


Here’s the complete sketchnote:


What great listeners do

How do you become a great listener?

I too see listening as an exploration. If you ever meet me in person, you’ll notice I’m not a big talker; I’m a big listener. What works for me is the following:

  1. Suspend your thoughts;
  2. Listen as if you don’t know anything and are eager to learn about the other person;
  3. Pay attention to both what is said and body language;
  4. Don’t interrupt;
  5. Maintain eye contact;
  6. Ask questions;
  7. Help the other person clarify their thoughts.

Being a great listener comes down to being present, being fully available to another person. That’s it.