Being a good communicator is not just about speaking and writing; you also need to be an attentive listener.

We assume we must have the ability to listen. After all, we have been listening to people since we were born, or at least, we think so. It’s more likely that we were hearing but not necessarily listening.

When we prepare a speech or an article, we write down (or type) thoughts and topics we need to cover, and when we prepare for a conversation, we think about what we want to say. What we usually don’t think about is how we plan to listen.

Benefits of good listening skills

  • You get a more complete understanding of the other person’s argument.
  • You broaden and deepen your expertise
  • People consider you dependable, because you listen to directions, perform tasks correctly, and meet deadlines.
  • You demonstrate professional courtesy to the speaker, which gives the impression that you care.
  • You get the most out of an interview when you are writing an article. You avoid a panic on deadline because, by listening carefully, you notice statements that you need the person to clarify, or you hearing things that require descriptive details.

Tips for being a good listener

  • After you have asked a question, listen attentively for the answer.
  • Stay engaged by maintaining eye contact, nodding affirmatively, and perhaps saying, uh-huh periodically.
  • Know that your mind might be congested with deadlines, emails you need to send, and issues that need your attention. Resist the tendency for your mind to wander.
  • Don’t prejudge the situation. Many people make up their mind in advance that they won’t listen carefully, because the speaker is known to exaggerate, or sometimes speaks without all the facts.
  • Be open-minded. Don’t enter a conversation with a preconceived notion that because the other person is less experienced, she has no good ideas to offer or cannot articulate her thoughts.
  • Don’t “step on” the person by interrupting to finish his thought or to insert your own suggestion. Let the person finish his sentence.

Don’t take listening ability for granted. Paying attention to someone who is speaking to you, asking questions, and expressing empathy will strengthen your credibility.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at

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