1 February 2022

6 min.

Are your listening skills outstanding?

Is listening important? If you believe what everyone is saying, it’s not even a question anymore! Listening is one of the foundations of successful interpersonal communication, and we all benefit from working on it, both in our personal and professional lives.

However, there are listening skills… and outstanding listening skills!

Indeed, it’s not merely a matter of nodding your head and saying “Mmmmm” when the other person opens up!

We sometimes have a distorted image of what good listening can be. While it is important to let the other person speak and to give them the space to develop their ideas, there is no need to do so in dead silence either!

So what exactly are outstanding listening skills?


How to improve communication in a team?


The benefits of outstanding listening skills

In order to better identify the essential elements of outstanding listening skills, let’s first identify the benefits they can offer!

At its simplest, outstanding listening skills allow the other person to feel energized when they come out of a conversation with you. A study shared by the Harvard Business Review even explains that we feel well listened to when the person listening participates actively in the discussion and dares to provide a different perspective. This leads to much richer and more interesting conversations.

As mentioned above, this soft skill is as useful in your personal life as it is at work. Whether it’s with your friends, colleagues, employees, or superiors, being an outstanding listener will make them feel valued, which will make them want to talk to you more often and get involved in projects. Imagine the impact and creativity this can bring to a work team!

The trampoline effect

Outstanding listening skills produce a rebound effect, like a trampoline!  In other words, the person you’re listening to should feel ready to bounce back. That’s what creates a trampoline effect!

These listening skills can be practiced at any time: in a project postmortem, during a one-on-one meeting, during a team assessment… Any occasion is a good opportunity to sharpen your skills!

What is your true intention when you are listening?

Before starting to listen to someone, you must first clarify your intention. What exactly do you want to achieve? To assert your point of view and convince the other person? To offer a ready-made solution? To bring the discussion back to a subject that concerns you?

Although these approaches may give you the impression that you are helping the other person, they are in fact pitfalls that prevent you from truly listening! To achieve the rebound effect you’re looking for, it is best to adopt best practices that allow you to be there for the other person, completely!

A few best practices

You may already have mastered some of the best practices we suggest. But even if you see yourself as a superstar listener, chances are you have some areas to work on too!

Start by choosing the right place for the conversation

If you want to have an emotionally charged conversation and let’s be honest, most real conversations are it’s important to choose the right setting. It’s hard to talk about a complex situation when you’re within sight and earshot of everyone else, or when you’re likely to be interrupted at any moment.

When you are offering to really listen to someone, choose a place where you can be comfortable, ideally out of sight, where the conversation can flow naturally and without the other person feeling the need to censor themselves.

Eliminate distractions to ensure the best listening experience

Distractions are not only physical, and it is impossible to achieve the “trampoline effect” if your mind is elsewhere! Paying attention to the other person and looking them in the eye is essential, especially to be able to pick up on their non-verbal cues, and it is much easier to do so when your mind is free.

What does this mean in practice? Removing your computer or cell phone from your field of vision (or, at the very least, putting it face down on the table and turning off notifications), putting your own concerns aside (even if it means making a list before the meeting to get them out of your mind so you can come back to them later), and giving yourself plenty of time for the discussion to take place (avoid slipping it in between two meetings that require preparation or follow-ups, for example).

It also means listening to the other person without mentally formulating your own response or arguments. Indeed, as soon as your mind is not 100% receptive, your listening capacity is reduced!

Give the other person space and simply listen

As we mentioned earlier, meaningful listening is not about jumping in to find solutions! Rather, it is allowing the other person to articulate and clarify their thoughts, encouraging them to think further, and letting them choose the next steps.

You can then rephrase the main ideas that the other person raises, in order to make sure that you clearly understand the issues, and name the emotions that you see in them, without any judgment. If we ask them questions, it is to encourage them to go further, without sidetracking the conversation.

An important reminder: always let the other person express themselves at their own pace, even if it is difficult, and resist the temptation to finish their sentences for them. Even if you think you know where the other person is going, it is up to them to lead you there, not the other way around.

Your turn!

You may have recognized some of the things you already do well. But you probably also identified some others that could be improved. No need to worry! Why not pick one right away (yes, right away!) and commit to putting it into practice in your next conversation? It’s up to you to improve your communication skills!