Listening to Hear the Real Message

Listening is one of the most important communication skills but it is not something that most of us do well. Our attention spans are declining by the day as there is so much noise in the world. We are moving at a breakneck speed and technology is always present to further distract us. In addition, we typically listen to respond, rather than listening to really listen. In other words, as the other person is talking, we are formulating our response in our heads which impacts our ability to listen well. 

But there are so many benefits to listening well! It will help to:

    • Improve your relationships
    • Improve your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate
    • Avoid conflict and misunderstandings
    • Validate the other person and make them feel valued

This all sounds good. So, what do we need to do to do better? The answer is to practice empathetic listening. Empathetic listening involves a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try to understand the complete message being sent. Simon Sinek says, “Hearing is listening to what is being said. Listening is hearing what isn’t said.” Even if you are doing a good job listening to the words the other person is communicating, there is much more to every message. You need to tune into body language, eye contact, tone, and more to attend to the real message. 

Below are some steps that you can take to be a better listener and practice empathetic listening based on the LISTEN acronym. Clever, right? I must admit that I didn’t come up with it totally on my own. I borrowed it and adapted it from an episode of Pastor Rick Warren’s Daily Hope podcast. 


Look and listen with your body language Use your eye contact, body language, and gestures to convey your attention.

  • Make eye contact – aim for 60-70% of the time.
  • Nod occasionally.
  • Smile and use other facial expressions.
  • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh. 
  • Make notes if appropriate.
Invest in the interaction Give the speaker your undivided attention and focus on receiving the intended message. 

  • Put aside distracting thoughts.
  • Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal.
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors (i.e., side conversations, your phone).
  • Avoid multi-tasking.
  • Avoid interrupting.
Share their feelings not your solution As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said, not to impose your solution. 

  • Summarize the speaker’s comments and feelings as you understand them.
  • Resist the urge to share your solution. 
  • Utilize empathy statements like “I understand how you feel. I’d feel that way too in your situation.” 
Tune into any underlying feelings or issues Tune into their body language/tone and try to identify if there are underlying issues that aren’t readily apparent through what they are saying verbally. 


Engage the speaker with open-ended questions Ask open-ended follow-up questions to clarify, show interest, and increase your understanding. 
Never judge until you have all the information Don’t jump to conclusions or make judgments until you have listened to the full message. 

Give it a try to elevate your relationships and performance!


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