We have all been told to think before we speak. While that is a good lesson, there is another rule we should all follow: listen before you speak. Becoming a good listener can positively impact work relationship, personal relationships, and new relationships. But just listening to others isn’t enough. Other people need to know you are listening.

Why is Listening So Important?

Everyone knows you should listen, but few understand why. Listening is a mutually beneficial behavior. Meaning, listening benefits both the listener and the speaker. Even if the listener disagrees or knows the solution, listening can give them insight as well as validate their relationship with the speaker. By listening, they show the speaker they appreciate and respect them, regardless of what they are saying. This validation and respect are valuable to the speaker, and they, in turn, will have more respect and appreciation for the listener. 

Why You Should Listen to Your Employees

A recent survey conducted by Boston Consulted group polled over 200,000 employees to determine the top ten factors for job satisfaction. The number one thing employees value most is an appreciation for their work. Surprisingly, a good paycheck falls way below on the list to number eight. These results prove that employees value recognition more than compensation.

If employees feel like they are being heard by their superiors, they will feel like their efforts and opinions matter. Awards and accolades are wonderful, but affirming you appreciate them by listening is something bosses can accomplish daily. By doing so, employees will be happier, which leads to lower turn over rates, higher productivity, and an overall happy work environment.



The Psychology of Listening

Milton Erickson was a renowned hypnotist & psychiatrist who changed the way psychologists treat patients today. Before Erickson, psychologists like Freud, Skinner, and Bandura worked to develop one particular theory they felt could be used to treat anyone and everyone. Erickson, however, valued individual truth instead of universal truths. 

Erickson believed psychologists must first understand an individual to determine the best treatment for them. Erickson would use his focused listening skills to talk with his patients and get to know them. This one helpful on two main levels. For one, listening enabled Erickson to customize effective treatments. Secondly, patients were probably much more open to his treatment because they felt heard and comfortable with him. 

Erickson’s individual therapy strategy was so successful it paved the way for NLP (neuro-linguistic processing), brief therapy, family therapy, and hypnotherapy. He was famous for his ability to cure patients with severe phobias in as little as one session. And listening was the foundation of his success.

How to Visually Communicate You are Listening

How do you communicate you are listening if, by the very act of listening, your mouth is closed? The answer is to use body language. By following these three tips, you can effectively verify that you are listening to any speaker.

Tip #1: Nodding

Do not think that by nodding, you are showing agreement. When it comes to listening, nodding shows that you are paying attention and hearing what the person is saying. A “listening nod” is more like a single or one and a half head bobs, as opposed multiple head bobs that shows agreement.  And of course, don’t nod nonstop. Nod at different intervals to express that you are still focused on what they have to say.

Tip #2: Eye Contact

Eye contact is a very effective way to show you are listening. But don’t just stare blankly into their eyes. Instead, connect with their eyes and slightly squint to show you are focused on them. However, it is important to note there are strong cultural differences when it comes to eye contact. If you live in a culture or are speaking to someone from a culture where eye contact can be viewed as hostile, you need to change tactics. Depending on the culture, gazing at the face may be more acceptable, or intermittent eye contact may be best. Know your audience! Or rather, in this case, know who you are an audience for!

Tip #3: Smile

Smiling may seem like an obvious way to show you are listening, but it can be tricky. You must adjust your smile throughout the conversation and, in many instances, not smile at all. Whatever you do, don’t plant a big, unchanging smile on your face. A slight smile, where you barely pull the edges of your mouth outward is a good go-to smile in most situations. 

Listening is the Key to Effective Speaking

Even though these tips seem simple and straightforward, effectively implementing the body language takes practice. You cannot simply stare, smile, and nod. Doing so will give the exact opposite impression you want to make; a person will think you are zoning out on them, not listening. Like Dr. Erickson, you need to make listening a foundational skill that you improve throughout your career and your life.


Learn more about nonverbal cues and body language and how they can lead to successful careers and relationships.

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