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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Tips on becoming a better listener

When we meet, you and I, you will see for yourself one of my most humiliating traits. No it's not my acromegaly, my plaid pants, nor my atrocious hairpiece.

No, friend, you will be deeply annoyed to hear me ask you to repeat your name at least twice, and possibly five times, during our inaugural conversation. And, in subsequent meetings, even though your face will be forever etched upon my brain (a skill at which I absolutely excel), I will probably call you "Champ," "Chief," or possibly "Tex." Because, yes, I will have completely forgotten your name. And it's not just a bad memory that's to blame here (although, of course, my memory sucks, too) -- I'm convinced it's because I am a terrible listener, and because I suffer intermittent encoding errors at the time data is written to disk, so to speak.

In working to improve this socially-crippling liability, in general -- to hear what people are really saying rather than just using the down time to formulate a pseudo-clever response -- I've begun skimming the web for advice. I have these sites and tips to share with you so far, so listen up!

From Becoming a Better Listener:

  • Genuinely interested: A successful listener is genuinely interested in what the other person has to say. If you don't have time at the moment, offer to talk with the individual later...
  • Silence: Become comfortable with silence in a helping relationship. Pauses can create valuable reflection time for the other person...
  • Nonverbal messages: Be sure your nonverbal messages are congruent with your verbal ones. Unless cultural differences dictate otherwise, offer direct eye contact while the individual is talking. It helps establish trust and communicates interest. Leaning forward is also interpreted as an expression of concern and interest.

From The Top 10 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener:

Tune out distractions.

Poor listeners are distracted by interruptions; good listeners tune them out and focus on the speaker and the message. It's a discipline that lends itself to specific techniques for maintaining one's focus.

From BookRags: How to Be a Better Listener Article:

  • Responses — When asked, answer questions in complete sentences...
  • Repetition — Repeat specific comments said by the person with whom you are conversing or listening...
  • Gentility — Be kind. People appear to be good listeners when they want to listen to others. If you look like you’re listening "just because," then your listening skills will appear less than perfect.

From How can you listen better? - workopolis.com:

Do you listen for their intent? New York Yankees manager Joe Torre once observed that he never just looks at what his players say when they're quoted in the newspaper. He tries to sort out why they're saying it. What is their emotional state as they're talking to you? Are they trusting and forthcoming -- or guarded and defensive? Sure, the words that they use are important, but they're often only a small part of what is being communicated to you.

Do you listen to learn? The best ideas have a funny way of coming from the most unlikely sources. That's why it's so important to be open to learning from anyone that you talk to...

How'd you become a good listener? Got a good trick that put you on the right track to hearing people more and better?

About Merlin

Merlin's picture


Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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