To Listen is an Active Verb

Learn to Listen — 10 Steps to Better Communication

The Do Book Company
Mar 1 · 4 min read

Listening is an everyday act, at once ordinary and majestic. It is also an act of great generosity. So powerful is this act that consciously choosing not to listen can bring disadvantage and even cause relationships to crumble.

We all have someone in our lives — at work or maybe a family member — with whom we think we can never find accord. Sometimes we cannot bear to listen to them, or expect them to ever listen to us. But what if you could find a new way? What would it take for you to try and create a new path of understanding? Where might it lead?


For those seemingly impossible cases — a tricky boss or client, relationship breakdown, troublesome teenagers — author of Do Listen, Bobette Buster, shares ten steps to more effective communication which can be applied to almost any tricky situation:

1. Change the setting

Depart from the usual hustle and bustle, seek comfort and beauty. Instead of sitting an opposite sides of the table — as if in a divorce lawyer’s conference room — find a warm, welcoming setting and seat yourselves in comfortable chairs.

2. Treat each other courteously

Offer the other person a seat and a cup of tea or coffee. Pour it out for them. Ask about their wellbeing. Are they comfortable? What else can you do for them?

3. Seek common ground

Start by discussing something shared and ordinary: the weather, traffic, what movies or major sports events have happened lately.

4. Make sure both sides are allowed to speak, and be listened to, for an equal amount of time

No judgment, no interruptions, or interjections. No righteous indignation. No visual and audible cues of disapproval. No list taking or writing anything down.

5. Paraphrase what you’ve heard

Once the first person has finished speaking, the other person should paraphrase what they heard. Perhaps an insight has already been gained. ‘Oh, I never thought about that!’ ‘Oh, really, how was that?’ Seek understanding.

6. Take turns

Now the other person gets the chance to speak for the same amount of time. Then the first person will paraphrase what they heard and understood. If the listener’s paraphrase does not reflect what you are trying to say, the speaker can rephrase using different words and allow the listener to paraphrase again.

7. Try to understand, not judge

Both sides are free to speak their truth and their pain. To tell their side of the story. Express your feelings. Dredge up the roots of your bitterness. Expose the wounds. By paraphrasing, the listening party must then reflect back how you felt, the hope being that they will begin to get a sense of how it might well have felt had they gone through those things.

8. Involve a third party if necessary

In certain cases you may need to include a third party. Their role will be to reflect each person’s position to the other party. We can more easily understand the feelings of another person when their attitude is accurately described to us by someone else.

9. Expect there to be an Aha! moment (even if it’s just a small one)

Remember: once you have seen the world the way the other person sees it — without passing any judgment — you run the risk of being changed yourself.

10. Discover humility or ask for forgiveness

Dare to let go of the past, and find a new way forward.


In developing ears to hear, we become more aware. It’s like a kind of fine-tuning — a strengthening of your senses — no less than exercising to keep up your physical health, or learning a language, craft or skill. Once you learn to tune in, you might just be changed forever.

‘Listening only happens with time. Take the time. Your life will expand.’ — Bobette Buster


Bobette Buster is a story consultant based in Los Angeles, California. She teaches storytelling at film programs all over the world and consults for major studios, including Pixar, Disney, and Sony Animation. She is the documentary producer of Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019). Currently she is Professor of the Practice of Digital Storytelling at Northeastern University, Boston. She is also the author of Do Story: How to tell your story so the world listens (Do Books, 2013).


Adapted from Do Listen: Understand what’s really being said. Find a new way forward by Bobette Buster. Copyright @ 2018 by Bobette Buster. Published by The Do Book Co.

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