Lillian Bjorseth: How to be a better listener

Filed under Columns guest column on the art of listening
Lillian Bjorseth offers tips for improving listening skills in business; Photo courtesy of Duoforce Enterprises.

By Lillian D. Bjorseth

Guest columnist

You tell others how much you care by how well you listen. Why wouldn’t everyone try to do it well? That’s why I am raising the question, Is listening a lost art?

I find myself in far too many situations where there are more senders than receivers in communication parlance. If you rearrange the letters in “listen,” you get “silent.” Being quiet when someone else speaks is only the first step. You could be daydreaming about your recent golf score, preparing your dinner menu or thinking about how to get out of the conversation.

You need to be present in the moment, paying attention to what is being said with your eyes and ears. The adage says, “God gave you two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you speak.” My version is “God gave you two ears, two eyes and one mouth so you can listen four times as much as you speak.”

Awareness counts

When you are engaged in a face-to-face conversation, you need to be as aware of the other person’s handshake, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, posture and use of space as you are of her or his words. Most times, the former “speak” much more loudly than words.

To be a better listener, consider these tips:

On the telephone, pay particular attention to how words are delivered. The tone becomes your guide.

Listen as though you were in the sender’s shoes. Pay attention to what is actually being said rather than what you think “should” be said. When you see the world through others’ eyes and identify with why they think as they do, you will take your listening skills to the next level. This also will enable you to listen non-judgmentally. People will ask for your advice if they want it.

Eliminate distractions. At work, come out from behind your desk (and the work lying on it) and sit along side the person. Consider a conference room if you want a neutral “listening” site. At home, turn off the radio or television, put down the phone, close the newspaper and look at the other person. Turn away from the sink and look at your children when they want to have those all-important end-of-day conversations. They will benefit much more than the carrots you are grating.

Ponder this advice my bartender friend gives new hires: “Listen to your customers. Listen! It’s the quickest way to establish loyalty. They want you to know much more about them than they want to know about you. That’s why they come here.”

What do your customers, employees, family and friends want to share with you? You’ll have the answers … when you listen!

Lillian Bjorseth of Lisle is a speaker, trainer, coach and author specializing in communication and face-to-face networking. Contact her at This article first appeared in a Duoforce Enterprises newsletter and is posted here with permission.

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