How to Be a Better Listener

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 18, 2021
3 min read

Have you ever zoned out while someone was talking to you? Perhaps you got distracted by the buzzing of your phone or a random thought. Or, maybe you’ve been talking to someone and noticed that, while they’re present and they hear you, they’re not actually listening. They might give the occasional noise or head nod, but their mind is elsewhere.

Being a good listener is a vital life skill. Here, you’ll learn why listening is so important and what you can do to become a better listener.

There’s a difference between hearing someone and listening to them. Being a good listener is an essential skill for several reasons:

  • It shows that you respect and care about what people have to say.
  • It helps build trust and shows that you value the person speaking.
  • It can help broaden your perspective on the topic of conversation.
  • It reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings.
  • It can assist with problem-solving.

Being a good listener is also a vital skill when it comes to most jobs. It can help create understanding between people and encourage the development of new ideas. It can also help companies improve their products and services.

To become a better listener, you need to do more than hear what someone else is telling you. Here are six things you can do to improve your listening skills:

1.Put Away Your Phone‌

Cell phones and technology can be very distracting. It pulls your attention away from what you’re doing at the moment, including listening to someone speak. A blip from a text, email, or phone call can pull you out of the conversation and focus your attention elsewhere, which means you aren’t listening anymore.

Put away or shut off your cell phone and other technological devices to avoid potential distractions during your conversation. And when you listen, be sure to maintain eye contact. It shows that you are attentive and interested in what the other person has to say.

2.Wait Until the Speaker is Finished Speaking Before Talking‌

It can be difficult to stay quiet when someone else is talking, especially when you’re excited or want to ask a question right away. At the same time, trying to think of a reply before the other person is finished speaking can distract you from the conversation, which can cause you to miss important details.

Instead of interrupting, finishing the speaker’s sentence, or trying to come up with a reply, be present. Wait to respond until after the person finishes talking.

3.Ask Questions to Ensure Understanding‌

Asking questions is a great way to keep a conversation going. However, some questions can lead the speaker away from their original topic to a completely different one. It happens a lot.

Instead of interrupting with a question that has nothing to do with the topic of conversation, wait until the speaker is done talking. Then ask questions to help ensure you understand what they told you. If you find that you took the person off their original course, take responsibility for it and help get them back on track.

4.Keep Your Mind Open‌

When you listen, do so with an open mind. Avoid jumping to conclusions or passing judgment. When someone is speaking, they’re using language to put their thoughts into words. You won’t know what those thoughts and feelings are if you stop listening and start judging. 

Also, when you listen with an open mind, you may find that you learn something new.

5.Try an Improv Approach‌

Something else you can try is to take an improv approach to your conversations. With this approach, you can only react in the moment to what the speaker is saying. It’s all about listening and then responding. You don’t plan your responses ahead of time because you don’t know what the other person is going to say or do. So you listen to everything they have to say, and then you come up with your response.


Becoming a better listener isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. The more you practice and hone your skills, the better you’ll become. 

Whether you’re speaking with a partner, friend, or coworker, practice patience and wait to form a response until after they stop speaking. Repeat back what you hear and ask questions to be sure you understand what they’re telling you. Avoid interrupting or taking them off their original topic. Over time, with plenty of practice, you’ll find your listening skills greatly improved.

Show Sources


Fast Company: “6 Ways to Become a Better Listener,” “Being a great listener can benefit your career. Here’s how to do it.”

Forbes: “10 Steps to Effective Listening.”

Inside Higher Ed: “Why Listening Matters for Leaders.”

The New York Times: “How to Be a Better Listener.”

University of Utah: “Seven Steps to Be a Better Listener.”

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