The Challenge: Sometimes We Listen, But We Don’t Hear

Are you a good listener? Most of us think we are, but those trying to make themselves heard may disagree.

Managers typically rate themselves higher than colleagues do in “360 degree” surveys, where a manager receives feedback from a full range of people with whom they work—superiors, peers, subordinates, and others. The biggest gap of all seems to be related to listening, particularly to listening when it comes to contrasting views and bad news.1 Missing this information could be disastrous!

“The strongest human instinct is to impart information, the second strongest is to resist it”—Kenneth Grahame

The Question: How Can You Improve Your “Hearing”?

Good listening goes far beyond taking in another’s words with our ears.

Consider This

“The most important thing in communications is to hear what isn’t being said.”Peter Drucker
“I never learn anything new when I’m the one talking.”—Larry King

Try This: Listen With Your Whole Body

To really connect with another, listen in a variety of ways.

Listen with your ears.

  • Listen for the words and the message. Listen to all of it.
  • What is the speaker’s tone communicating?
  • What is their pace telling you?

Listen with your head.

  • Does what the speaker is saying make sense? Is it consistent?
  • Nod occasionally. In fact, nod three times. This encourages the speaker to continue. (Caution: Refrain from this in cultures or cases where it may be interpreted as an “I agree” nod, instead of the intended ‘I’m listening” nod.)
  • Resist letting other thoughts in (such as your planned response) while you are listening.

Listen with your eyes.

  • Keep good eye contact.
  • What signals do you notice from the speaker’s body language and facial expression?

Listen with your heart.

  • What’s important to the speaker?
  • What is their intention?
  • What do they need?
  • What do you have in common?
  • What do you like about what’s being said?
  • Connect heart-to-heart.

Listen with your gut.

  • What’s the message behind the message?
  • Can you trust the speaker?
  • What opportunities are being presented?
  • What’s NOT being said?

Listen with your whole body.

  • Give the other your full attention.
  • Lean in a little. Listen with your whole body.
  • Listen while you speak, too.

Apply & Evaluate: What Do You Notice?

If you’re not already in a “full body” listening mode, try adding one or two elements at a time. Then notice:

  • How has your “hearing” changed?
  • What reactions are you getting from speakers?
  • What else could you do to listen more fully?

Take Action: Now What?

The transformation from being a surface listener to being a deep, active listener doesn’t happen overnight. Practice using good listening habits every day. It will pay off in better business results, fewer bad surprises, and improved relationships.

Find More Articles Like This in Leaders Lab: 66 Ways to Develop Your Leadership Skill, Strategy, and Style


1Source: Personnel Decisions International survey of more than 4,000 US managers across various industries and functions, cited in “So You Think You’re a Good Listener”, Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan, April 2008:

©New Century Leadership LLC 2015