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How to Really Listen to Someone

Photo by Thomas Hawk
To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other person will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. ~Dale Carnegie

Everyone desires to be heard. When we listen to others, we validate their need to be acknowledged and understood. Deep down inside, we all want to know that we matter, that we are important. Don’t you find that meeting someone who shows interest in what we have to say, we tend to take a liking to them instantly?

I’m not asking you to pretend to be interested in hopes of being liked, but rather to pay attention to this often overlooked and forgotten skill. In addition to improving your personal and professional relationships, listening also helps to prevent misunderstandings and facilitates cooperation.

The following are techniques to being an effective listener. I have learned these from communication courses, seminars and books on personal relationships. These are ones I’ve personally found to be useful when engaged in a conversation with other people:

  • Mirroring – mimic the other personal facial expressions and body positions. React as if you have become their mirror. Mirroring will allow you to feel what they are feeling, and have a deeper understanding of feelings carried with the words. People will begin to feel very comfortable being around you without consciously understanding why.Did you know that a baby will mimic the expressions of adults? Try it next time you’re playing with a baby in a crib. Make a distinct face, and watch the baby’s reaction.I learned this technique first from a psychology textbook, and later from Tony Robbins. After trying it myself, I learned that you can experience what others are feeling, but might find yourself on the same wavelength with similar thoughts and visions. Our physiology (facial expression, gesture and posture) can affect our internal state. Mirroring is just a technique to put yourself in a position (literally) to accept and internalize the meaning behind the words.
    • For example, you are sitting across the table from someone, the other person is holding a glass of water with his left hand, leaning forward and towards the right side. You mirror them by holding a glass of water or cup with your right hand, leaning forward and towards the left side.
  • Focus On Them, Not Yourself – In conversations, I often lose my mind in my own thoughts. I get hung on what I’m going to say next or random thoughts like, ‘How do I look?’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘What should I do tonight?’ The trick is to shift that attention and focus on the speaker. Give them your full attention. Be genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. Here’s a quote from Dale Carnegie extracted from principle 4 ofHow to Win Friends and Influence People

“Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

  • Active Listening – It’s easy to let your mind wander while someone is talking. It’s also natural to focus on how you plan to respond to the speaker rather than giving your full attention. Try active listening to shift focus on listening:
    • Repeat – Repeat what they are saying in your head, in your own words. Internalize the meaning of the words.
    • Summarize what you heard. A great listening technique involves rephrasing the speaker’s words and repeating them back to them. This verifies that you understood what the speaker said, and also gives the speaker a chance to clarify their thoughts. You can start the sentence with “So what I’m hearing you say is” or “Are you saying that
    • Look for the message – Look for keywords. Don’t just listen with your ears, but also with your heart and soul. Connect with them. There are so much more said than just words alone. Try to ask yourself, What is their point? Where are they coming from? What do they need? What they are saying in words is just an expression, but there’s always an underlying message. Look for that core message.

  • Body Language – lets the speaker know you are paying attention and care about what they are saying.
    • Make Eye Content – show you are paying attention. Make sure your eyes are not wander around the environment, looking behind the person. One technique is to focus on just one eye, this shows concentration and will help you focus.
    • Smile – When we are focused, we tend to have no expressions on our face and this can be interpreted as unwelcoming or uninterested. Remember to wear a smile, even a slight one.
    • Node & ‘Un-huh’ – Add “un-huh”, “hmmm”, “I see” in between sentences. This is direct feedback to the speaker, it acknowledges to the other person that their words are heard and understood.
    • Lean Forward – lean slightly towards the person, show that you are interested in what they have to say and are giving them your full attention.
  • Questions & Probing – Ask questions to clarify your understanding. People like questions, provided you are conscious of when not to ask questions (for example, you don’t want to interrupt their train of thought by jumping in with questions as they speak). This shows that you are listening and are following them. Probe for additional and related information. Some good probing sentence starters are How? Why? For example, “How did it happen?” “And what was your reaction?” “Why did you choose to leave?”
  • Non-Judgmental – Listen with compassion, openness and acceptance. In conversations, we often think about refutes and counter-arguments as the other person speaks. Listen with openness by recognizing that they are expressing themselves, and allow them the freedom to do that. Besides, we don’t want to be judged when we are speaking, so why should we judge others?
  • Don’t interrupt – Let the speaker finish their thoughts. Don’t move on to what you’d like to say until the speaker has finished talking. If you have something to say, bite your tongue and nod. Be patient, wait for your turn. Remember how annoying it was when someone interrupted you? And you lost your train of thought? Give others respect and allow them to finish.

If you lose focus, change your body position. If you find your mind wandering, move to a different position and try using one of the techniques above to refocus on the speaker.

Do you have any listening tips or thoughts you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em in the comments. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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56 thoughts on How to Really Listen to Someone

  1. Armannd

    Question: could you share with us what is the reasoning that has led you to believe that any of these tips work in the real life? You do have a logical basis for them, don’t you? Experience, seminars and books don’t make valid answers for my question. :)

    PS: I’m not saying that the tips are useless; on the contrary, I find them really useful and real.

  2. Thank you for this. Now that I read the post I realize that I can’t listen whatsoever. Formerly I was confident to be a good listener. Have to learn now.

    It must be “contact” in “Make Eye Content” [sic!] though I guess?

  3. Tina,

    I love what you’ve written here. I think another topic you can touch on is how to go beyond active listening, into empathic listening (Steven Covey talks about this in his book The 7 Habits).

    I’ve started using this method of listening, and the results are tremendous. People open up much more easily, and the conversations are much more rewarding.

    Great article, keep up the good work!

  4. Armannd,

    RE: the reasoning that has led you to believe that any of these tips work in the real life?

    Because I use all of them in real life. I’ve have tested them and practiced them. These were the top ones that worked best from my personal experience.

    We can go deeper into the psychology of things, but I thought to leave those details out and get to the point, get to the core.

    Thanks for asking. :)


    Thanks for commenting Tad.

  5. Hi Rahul,

    Thanks for the feedback. Active listening is part of Empathic listening. The only thing missing from Empathic listening is “reflect feeling”. Part of mirroring will help us to do that. Thanks for the reminder tho.

    Here’s an article on Empathic Listening for anyone interested.

  6. Gil

    I need to get the batteries on these hearing aids replaced soon. I can’t hear a thing being said. Good thing I can still read these wonderful advice. Love it. Thanks Tee.

  7. You have a lovely place here with interesting thoughts and ideas. Keep it up. Enjoyed reading.

  8. I have absolutely found that mirroring others is very effective in communication, particularly in a professional environment. I think it makes people feel that they can relate to you on a primal level.

    I learned it originally as a sales technique because people feel more compelled to buy from someone they see as being “like them”. It’s strange how these tiny little movements and facial expressions can make such a strong emotional impact on us.

    I also recommend mirroring speech patterns. For example, using similar types of slang or reference words. This helps the other person really hear you and again, feel the connection.

  9. These are excellent tips. Not only are they things you can observe in people who are considered good listeners, they are well-established techniques taught to psychologists are others who want to work effectively in communicating with others. It’s amazing what we can learn from other people once we actually start truly hearing what they are saying…

  10. I find I focus on people themselves, sometimes. I watch their body language and it gives me many indications as to how they are, beyond their words. That helps to get behind what is being said, to get to the heart of the matter.

    Very good post! …it’s great to meet you!

  11. I like this quote Tina..

    “To be interesting, be interested.”

    I like also about listening for keywords, that can actually help to listen unspoken messages also, so as to understand the person better.

    Nice job, Tina keep it up.


  12. Chris Sharp

    Thank you very much! These are fantastic tips for connecting with others Tina. From a spiritual perspective, I enjoy feeling the other person as another version of me. I’m not just talking to a body with feelings and emotions, I’m connecting with a creative being who has amazing creations. I practice sharing their perspectives as they would be mine and appreciate them. The greatest trick I learned and am still practicing is to relax my thinking on HOW I’m connecting with them – just connect and feel the flow. Keep attention out and relax any ‘efforting’ to connect.

    How do you use the practice of mirroring when someone is feeling very serious or heavy, or is running out words faster than they can comprehend (or you for that matter?)

  13. These are really useful tips and I cannot emphasis enough the importance of listening in all aspects of life.

    People’s natural inclination is to advocate than to understand. To really listen, one must come from perspective of wanting to understand than to advocate.

    As such, Stephen R. Covey teaches us ‘Seek to understand than to be understood’. It’s more of an attitude than the superficial skills to ‘appear to be listening’.

    Tina, I recommend an apt follow-up would be how to cultivate a ‘seek to understand’ attitude to make this article complete.

    Having such that, these are still very good tips. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Wow Chrissy. Thanks for the input. When I first tried mirroring outside of a learning environment, I felt like a fraud. :) It felt so funny, but slowing being sensitive to people and their reactions, I noticed a difference in the way people warm up to you faster.

    When I first learned it, the instructor said, “If you think that the other person will be suspicious of your mirroring, then you must be the type of person who still thinks others are fully listening when you speak.”. :) That was funny.

    Thanks for adding the piece about “mirroring speech patterns”… I almost forgotten about that. Thanks for the reminder! You’re awesome!

  15. @Mary, @Gamy – Thank you for commenting!



    Well put. I do the same. Often times, I don’t even hear the words, I just stare into their eyes, be present, and feel the person beyond words. I find that I get so much more information that way, thoughts, feelings and motives. I feel I have a better understanding of them as well. Thanks for commenting!

  16. @Chris,

    Beautiful words Chris. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I loved reading it. I feel the same way about feeling people out. To drop the thoughts of “wanting to connect” to people.. drop thoughts as much as I can and just be.. just be present with them. :)

    Re: How do you use the practice of mirroring when someone is feeling very serious or heavy

    Great question.
    You can still mirror them when they are feeling very serious. Just mimic their facial expression as you engage with them. Similarly with their body posture.

    I’ve been through moments of feeling really down and telling a friend about my ‘story’, and out of the times where I felt really understood where when my friend had a very similar look as myself in that state (concerned, sad), I felt understood, supported and connected. It’s an unconscious effect. As I learned this, I started noticing this effect on myself. Pretty cool.

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment!

  17. @Lawrence,

    RE: Tina, I recommend an apt follow-up would be how to cultivate a ’seek to understand’ attitude to make this article complete.

    That’s a fantastic idea! One of my todo topics is on “How to Understand People”.. slight variations of your suggestion. I will keep that in mind.

    Thanks again for your valuable input. :)

  18. When a person shoes a deaf ear but only interested in talking closes his mind firmly shut and thereby closing all avenues to grow.

  19. Hi Tina,
    This is my first visit to your blog.
    I see that you have lots of good stuff to share.
    Have subscribed to your rss feed.

    And for those who seem to forget to be conscious to listen more instead of talking, just look at yourself in the mirror. You have one mouth and two ears. Why not two mouths and one ear?
    Happy listening.

  20. These are great tips and will hope to open many doors. I have taught these very same things to many a class of soon to be sales people. Essential knowlege. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Great article. We could use alot more listening in our world today. Do you think it can be the culture’s attitude to focus on our own selves?

    I loved your opening paragraph. When we listen, we validate the needs of others to feel accepted.. Great thoughts

  22. Hi Tina,

    I have read Dale Carnegie’s books too. Mirroring is definitely effective. Thanks for sharing great tips here.

  23. i really like the opening quote on listening.

    thanks for sharing these tips.

  24. Tina,

    I do believe there is a lot to say for REALLY listening. I do believe too many times we are so interested in what we have to say, we don’t ACTIVELY listen or are not PRESENT in the conversation.
    When you learn to listen effectively, you will be surprised at the long term rewards it will give back to you.


    Teresa Morrow

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