5 Tips to Becoming a Better Listener


Stephen Covey, renowned author and business thinker, talks about seven habits that successful people employ. If you haven’t read his 7 Habits book, I highly recommend you do! One of his habits includes “seek first to understand, then be understood.” I’ve always been fascinated by that concept ~ paying such close attention to understand what is being said then communicating back in such a way that my response is understood. Not such an easy task, I will confess.

And here’s what I’ve learned: Listening, in its truest sense, makes the person who is speaking feel appreciated, interesting, and respected. When we focus on our listening, regular conversations reach a deeper level and so do our relationships. Parents listening to their children help build their self-esteem. In the dental world, listening saves time, gains clarity and creates deeper connections with team members and patients. And we always learn more when we listen than when we talk … so how are some people better at it than others? Because listening is a skill, not simply something we are born with or don’t have. The good news is that we can all benefit from improving our ability to listen.

Research suggests that we can only remember 25-50 percent of what we hear. That means when you’re talking to your team members, family or patients for 10 minutes, they’re really only paying attention to less than half of what you’ve said. And conversely, when you are on the receiving end of information, you’re not hearing the whole message either. Yikes!

By becoming a better listener, not only can you improve your work performance you can also improve the relationships with your family and patients through a higher level of communication. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. And we can all use a lot less of that!

The first step to becoming a better listener is to take an “active listening” approach. This means making a conscious effort to not only pay attention to the words being spoken but, more importantly, to understand the complete message being sent.

Let’s get started – here are 5 tips to help ensure that you are hearing the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what she is saying.

  1. Be fully present – Recognize that non-verbal communication also “speaks” louder than words. What does ‘being present’ mean? It includes:
  • Looking at the person speaking directly.
  • Not multi-tasking or being distracted by outside factors, such as side conversations or checking email.
  • Paying attention to the speaker’s body language.
  1. Let the person speaking know that you are listening – Be aware of and use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
  • Encourage the speaker with small verbal comments such as “yes” and “uh-huh” and nod occasionally.
  • Smile and use other facial expressions.
  • Make sure your posture it is open and inviting.
  1. Provide Feedback – Our personal beliefs and judgments can often distort what we hear. As an active listener, it is your role to understand what is being said without any filters. It is also important to reflect back what is being said and ask questions:
  • Paraphrase to reflect back what you’re hearing with such comments as “What I’m hearing is…,” and “Sounds like you are saying…”
  • Ask questions to clarify certain points, such as “What do you mean when you say…” or “And I think I heard you say …, is that correct?”
  • Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
  1. Avoid Interrupting – Being an active listener means not interrupting the speaker, which is often the cause of frustration for the speaker and limits your full understanding of the message.
  • Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
  • Avoid injecting comments or counter arguments.
  • Avoid the temptation to start formulating a response before the speaker is finished.
  1. Respond Appropriately – Active listening conveys respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. Nothing is gained by challenging the speaker.
  • Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
  • Give your responses clearly and respectfully.
  • Practice the Platinum Rule – treat the other person in a way that he/she wants to be treated.

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, so practice, practice, practice. Start slowly with the genuine intent to connect with the other person and give your full attention ~ put down the cell phone and turn away from your computer. It’s not about ‘getting it perfect’. Ask questions, reflect and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message.

Use the 5 tips above and you’re well on your way to becoming a better listener, a better communicator and developing better relationships.

Robyn Reis

Robyn Reis

Robyn began her dental career in 1998 as a marketing and communications director for a large group practice, and instantly fell in love with the world of dentistry. She has spent every waking moment since learning, growing and collaborating with dentists and their teams utilizing her expertise in all aspects of dental practice management, marketing, communications, HR, continuing education, and laboratory sales. Robyn's personal goals are to make a difference in someone's life every single day and to give the best of herself to those around her. Robyn and her family live and play in Northeast Ohio.