Posted by: coachingparents | July 27, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

Someone once said, “We have two ears and only one mouth, therefore
we should listen twice as much as we speak.”  However, between those
two ears is a thinking brain that processes information about four
times faster than we can talk.  About four weeks ago, I wrote about
the art of listening.  Today, I want to offer you nine practical
listening skills which, when practiced, can make you a very effective

1.    When listening, become “centered.”  To be centered is to be
completely relaxed,  calm, receptive and open to information from both
outside and inside your skin.  Listen without assumptions or
predispositions about the outcomes of the listening experience. 
Centeredness is a prerequisite to truly effective listening.

2. Never rule out any topic of conversation as uninteresting or
boring.  Listen for ideas and meaning versus “just the facts.” 
Artistic listeners are always on the lookout for new information, new
ideas and new ways of looking at things.  While you may find some
conversations to be completely inane, creative listeners are always
alert for a nugget of interest that is worthwhile. 

3.  Be alert to your own prejudices and preconceived notions.  Often,
we are unaware how strongly our prejudices influence our willingness
as well as our ability to accurately listen/hear.  However, any
prejudice or preconceptions, valid of not, tends to obscure or distort
the meaning of any message.

4.  Effective listeners accept and acknowledge the speaker’s message.
You don’t have to believe everything you hear or change your mind
about a given topic.  Nevertheless, you do need to withhold judgment
while a speaker is talking.  When you are accepting “as is” the
message you are receiving, you’re not determining the truth or falsity
of the statement. Rather, you are simply acknowledging exactly what
the speaker is saying–right or wrong, good or bad, true or
false…even too difficult for you to understand. This capacity for
total acceptance frees the mind to listen for clues for greater
clarity and understanding

5.  Listen for the total message.  One estimate is that 75 to 80% of
all communication is non-verbal.  Artistic listeners pay attention to
a host of clues as to what the speaker is communicating.  Examples of
non-verbal clues include: posture (rigid or relaxed, closed or open);
facial expression (does it support the words?); hands (clenched, open,
relaxed, tense?); eyes (does the speaker maintain eye contact?); voice
tone (does it match the words?); movement (are the speaker’s movements
intense, relaxed, congruent (with the message) or conflicting; do they
suggest that the whole speech is “staged” for what the speaker thinks
you want to hear.  What you’re looking for are inconsistencies between
with is said, how it is said and what is really meant.  All these
clues combine with words to give you the whole meaning of the message.

6.  Don’t get hung up on the speaker’s delivery.  Are there certain
words and phrases that prejudice you so you cannot listen objectively?
There are elements of a person’s speaking that simply reveal
awkwardness in delivery rather than any attempt to mislead or send
ulterior messages. For the effective listener, the key is being able
to distinguish between the two. It’s easy to turn off listening when
someone speaks haltingly, has an irritating voice, or just doesn’t
come across well. The key to good listening, however, is to get beyond
the manner of delivery to the underlying message being sent.  To do
this, you have to resolve not to judge the message by the delivery
style.  It’s amazing how much more accurately you can “hear” once
you’ve made the decision to really listen rather than criticize or be

7. Resist the temptation to rebut, rehearse or reply while another is
When we hear someone saying something with which we strongly
disagree, we immediately begin mentally formulating a rebuttal or a
reply.  We do this because we have a natural tendency to resist any
new information that conflicts with what we believe. However, the
effective listener knows that you can always rebut later, after you’ve
heard the whole message and had time to think about it.  Become
comfortable with pauses in the conversation to give yourself time to
think about what you have heard, ask for clarification, or formulate a
genuine response.

8. Focus your attention exclusively on the speaker.  Poor listeners
are distracted by interruptions; good listeners tune them out and
focus on the speaker and the message. There are specific techniques
for maintaining one’s focus. Some include: maintain eye contact with
the speaker; lean forward in your chair; let the speaker’s words
“ring” in your ears; and turn in your chair, if necessary, to block
out unwanted distractions.

9. Finally, when listening to a public speech or listening
“therapeutically,” take notes sparingly.  The more focused you are on
writing down what is being said, the more likely you are to miss the
nuances of the conversation. There are two good ways around this
dilemma. You can write down only key words and then, after the
conversation, meeting, etc., go back and fill in.  Or you can take
notes pictorially, that is, by diagramming what the speaker is saying.
The latter is a technique called, “mind-mapping.”  Mind-mapping was
first popularized by a writer named Tony Buzan in a book entitled,
“Use Your Head.”

Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and
Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area
presented in “Practical Life Coaching” (formerly “Practical
Psychology”).  Initial coaching sessions are free.  E-mail:


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