5 Steps to Become An Authentic Listener

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

“Did you hear what I said?"

"Were you listening to me?”

If someone has asked you one of these questions lately, this blog is definitely for you! Sit down, get on your stationary bike, walk down to the lake, pull out some snacks. Do get comfortable; you’ll want to immerse yourself in this one.

The ability for some people to listen to others has almost become lost in our society. Everyone is so hyped up, quick to judge, racing for their turn to speak, and desperately needing to get their own point across. Instead of listening, most people want to talk over others, talk louder than others, or talk more than others. For some reason, people think this makes them more important than the person speaking.

This mindset is backwards and flawed. It’s downright counterproductive.

There is a plethora of information out there that shows when people are listened to, truly listened to, positive things emerge. Work productivity increases, relationships are strengthened, trust is fostered, creativity is bolstered, engagement blossoms, attitudes and emotions improve - just to name a few positive outcomes. Along with these, listening is a foundational element in respectful, trusting relationships.

Knowing all of this, though, is completely different than actually doing it. True listening, authentic listening, takes intentional effort.

Before we get to the part that tells you how you can become an authentic listener right now, read the following definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, authentic means “not false or imitation; sincere with no pretenses.” Listen means “to hear with thoughtful attention and consideration.” You could conclude that authentic listening means to sincerely and thoughtfully pay attention to and consider what you are hearing. Interestingly, the responsibility is on you.

Walk this one step further. The definition of sincere, according to Merriam-Webster, is “free from pretense or deceit; not dishonest or hypocritical.” Wow! That’s a high standard for anything, especially for listening - which doesn’t require us to do anything. Or, does it?

I would dare say it does. If you are an authentic listener, you enter into the conversation knowing that you will sincerely listen and allow the other person to express their thoughts. You will engage because you want to truly put some thought into what they are saying. You want to provide them the space to openly speak.

Check out these quotes on listening:

- “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” - Bryant H. McGill

- “Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet.” - Krista Tippett

- “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it tales to sit down and listen.” - Winston Churchill

- “To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas got heard. It’s a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.” - Deborah Tannen

- “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R. Covey

- “Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.” - Margaret J. Wheatley

If you want to distinguish yourself from the noise and clamor of everyone else, and positively contribute in conversations, try these five steps to become a more authentic listener.

5 Steps to Become an Authentic Listening

1. Make eye contact with the person speaking. Only look away when you are processing their words in your mind. Remember that you can ‘see’ what they are saying most affectively through meaningful eye contact. They say that the eyes are the gateway to the soul; look for emotion, wisdom, victory, suffering, excitement, fear - the ‘back story’ to what they are really trying to tell you.

2. Create a visual, mental picture of what they are describing (or talking about). For some, this is a picture, diagram, painting, algorithm, process, equation.

3. Let the person speaking finish their sentences and their thoughts. Be respectful in how you allow them to express themselves.

4. Speak in response with words to affirm, confirm, and ask probing questions. Respond exactly how you would like your thoughts to be addressed later on in the conversation. Even though you might not have the opportunity to speak directly to this topic in that same moment.

5. Confirm that the person speaking has fully shared what they intended. Ask them, “This is what I heard. Is that what you meant?” Then let them either wrap it up or add to their story. If needed, continue to conversation at a later time by simply saying “It’s so important that I listen to the rest of your story, can we set a time in the next few days to continue this conversation?”

Be proactive and inspire the people around you. Listen to them. One of the most genuine (and potentially heartfelt, vulnerable) ways to grow as a leader is to practice the gift of authentic listening. What you’ll hear and the potential impact this can have on others will truly amaze you.

In the next 3 days, commit to authentically listen during 3 conversations/meetings each day. After each meeting, jot down your thoughts and reflections as soon as you can. Once you have reflected on these 9 conversations, reconnect with the people and groups involved. Don’t be surprised if you find that any of the following have changed in your relationships: increased work productivity, deepened trust and respect, sudden bursts of creativity, improved attitudes and emotions.

Comment below and share an opportunity you chose to listen authentically and what the outcome was.


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Nancy H. Cummings

Learn more about Nancy H. Cummings, Founder & President of Cummings Collaborative

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