What does it mean to be a good listener? That is the question that I am asking myself as I am writing this post. But before I get into all of that, another question comes up: why would you care about being a good listener?

First of all, listening is the foundation to learning. When you listen to what people have to say, you learn new things. Secondly, listening shows empathy. When you listen to someone talk, you are communicating the message that you think they're worth your time. After all, doesn't it feel good when you are really being heard? I think it does.

I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons why you should care about being a good listener, but for this is a post, not a book. With that being said, I will add on one last reason: listening helps you develop a constructive response. When you listen well, you are comprehending what is being said and are cognitively formulating a reply. A good reply consists of you communicating that you understand what is being said, as well as a response that contributes to the conversation. Are you convinced now on the importances of listening? Good.

Let’s move on.

How to Be a Good Listener

For me, the first rule of being a good listener is to shut up. Nine times out of ten, someone you meet has a lot on their mind, and if you happen to be involved in a conversation with them, they'll have a lot to say. So shut up and listen. What I mean by shutting up is don’t interrupt too much. Adding a “yeah”, “uh-huh”, or a “right” is okay — what I'm talking about is not overpowering the conversation, and stomping all over someone’s thought process. That’s not cool. Just shut up, and let them talk.

The next rule I have about being a good listener is to show the other person(s) that you are listening. This can be done in a variety of ways. Here is what I use:

  1. I show that I listened well by quickly repeating what I am hearing, or just heard, in my own words. This has an added bonus of not only showing I listen well, but it allows me to personally comprehend the message better. To make this step even more effective, try to take away and repeat the parts of the other’s message that you think are most important to them. For example, if a person gets excited or seems a little more knowledgeable about a certain topic, that would be one you should be sure to show that you listened to.
  2. Use the appropriate body language. There are many books on how to do this, but all you need to do is be attentive. If you think in your mind, “How can I show I am being attentive to this person?” your body will reflect it. Other ways to show the appropriate body language is to not turn your body away from the conversation, or look down at your phone.

My last rule of being a good listener is showing I am someone worth talking to. I do this by offering something to the conversation that strengthens it. Strengthening the conversation is done by combining what you're doing in the previous two steps, effectively; once you learn to shut up and listen, you are remaining quiet while the other person is talking. This gives them time to say their thing, and you are given time to use your brain to think about what to say back. Next, when you show that you really heard what you were just told, it makes the other person feel good. People that make you feel good are worth having around.

(For what it’s worth, I find that the longer someone talks about something as being a good indicator of how developed the potential conversation will be. For example, if someone talks to me for two minutes about xyz, I find myself talking for the same amount of time about a similar topic. Whereas if someone spouts off a few words — which is okay, I like communication from simple to complex — I will contribute with an equal amount of words; or, engage in a conversational builder. But that is a subject for another post).

Final Thoughts

Listening is a skill that takes time to develop. It’s funny to me that we spend so much time listening while growing up in school, yet we are not actually taught how to listen well. But those that listen well, do well. Those that can shut up and hear what others have to say will be in a better position to comprehend the information and then give a good response.

Being someone that is well liked requires you to be a good listener. I like to practice my listening skills whenever possible. I even started a Meetup where I meet with people in my city for coffee and conversation. There are a lot of people out there that want to be listened to, and generally converse with others. The group has gained over fifty members with no outside promotion in a short amount of time.

This post about listening is done, but I have a semi-related thing about my upcoming startup that I'd like to share. The problem I am trying to solve with my startup is not having a place for having online conversation. You can read that below, but before I get to that I want to end my post with some questions, as is what is becoming the standard for how I've been structuring my posts lately.

Do you have any input on what it takes to be a good listener?
Do people tell you that you have good listening skills?
Do you feel good when people listen to what you have to say?

Conch shell photo credit: wildxplorer on Flickr

One of the things I am working on — my startup — is based on making a place for having better online conversations. There exists places like message boards or Reddit (i.e., forums 2.0), but there doesn't exist a place that is like a cafe; a place where you can visit and check out what conversations are happening and get involved with them. The closest thing I see that is currently available to this concept is Gravity by Disqus. However, what I am creating is going to be something better. If you'd like to talk more about this, shoot me a DM on Twitter @raymondduke and we can set up a Google Hangout or a Skype. It'd be even better if you were a technical person (e.g., a developer, programmer, etc.) because a technical cofounder is currently whom I am seeking to create a partnership with to help solve this problem. Even if you're not in the position to work on something like this at the moment, I'd still like to listen to your feedback on what kind of technical framework is required.