Radical Listening – 6 Strategies For Deeper Connections

Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much. -Robert Greenleaf

In a recent post, we talked about why you might be undervaluing your listening skills, and how that’s costing you.

In this post, I’ll share some helpful techniques to improve your listening ability.

But before you keep reading, check yourself: how important is listening to you, really?

One of the biggest reasons people don’t listen is that they don’t think it’s important. Unless you decide listening matters for your life, you probably won’t be willing to do the hard work that this post is going to ask of you.

(If you haven’t read the pre-cursor to this post, consider taking a minute to do so.)

The bad news is that most of us are poor listeners. The good news is that listening is a skill that can be developed, like any other.

Here’s how.

7 techniques to improve your listening

1. Take notes.

Active listening techniques like nodding, eye contact and affirming sounds are great, but we’re good at faking these. Taking notes is harder because it requires us to synthesize. This process gets us present and aids the learning process, even if we never look at our notes.

2. Paraphrase.

Attention inevitably slips. A great technique to combat a lapse is to paraphrase. “I’m not sure I got that exactly. Did you mean … ?” When you’re committed to listening, try to resist the temptation to contribute your own thoughts, and paraphrase instead. You’ll find yourself listening more closely, if only to avoid looking foolish.

3. Ask for repetition.

If you’re feeling extra courageous, an act of great respect and mindfulness is to simply acknowledge when an attention lapse happens. Asking for repetition can act as a bridge to greater attention, since noticing that your attention has lapsed is an act of presence in itself.

4. Ask probing questions.

One of the oldest tricks in the book, and still one of the best. You can trick yourself into listening more closely by watching for opportunities to probe. Just remember, don’t fake it – the best questions are genuine ones.

5. Validate.

Phrases like “thank you for saying that …”, “I like what you said about ….” and “That makes sense because …” force you to pay attention and also demonstrate a high level of engagement.

6. Provide buffer time.

Your ability to listen depends to some extent on your environment. One of the simplest ways you can promote a positive listening environment is to allow plenty of buffer time. This allows you to put your phone away and direct all of your attention to the person and matters at hand.

7. Go slow, pause and breathe.

Remember that for every word you choose not to speak, you create another opportunity to listen. Pick your spots to speak more carefully and learn to say less by going slowly, pausing and breathing.

If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut. ~Albert Einstein

It all sounds easy enough. But listening is deceptively hard. Without deliberate, persistent effort you simply cannot learn to listen.

Before you finish reading this post, check yourself. Do you believe in the transformative effects of listening? Are you prepared to do the hard work of suspending your ego over and over?

If you answered yes – and if you commit yourself to becoming an excellent listener – you will reap rewards in almost every aspect of your life, from love and relationships to your networking skills and influence at work.

What’s your favorite listening technique? Have any of these worked for you? Let us know in the comments.

About the author:

Taylor Jacobson is a leadership and career coach, empowering people to discover and unleash their visions for change in the world. Explore his blog, 21 Switchbacks, and say hello on Facebook and Twitter. Are you living your potential yet?

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  1. The act of listening is difficult because it means putting the other person in a higher pedestal. Even though we give time and space for the speaker to speak, we typically fake listening tyring to do the following:
    1. Use the time to frame our own response.
    2. Judge the speaker.
    3. Think about some other thing.

    The techniques mentioned in this post really helps us to be focussed and effective as a listener. I like taking notes. It keeps me focussed. But it is difficult to do in a social setting.

    • Jack Grabon says:

      Taking notes in a social setting is not very practical, I agree. But, I think that you can take that idea (and some of the others above) to help in those types of situations for sure.

      One idea I might throw in is that instead of taking notes, you could mentally try to take notes. Pretend that you’re writing down what a person is saying or trying to memorize it to quote them later. Or that you’re going to best tested on the conversation later. The key is really to be interested enough in what someone else is saying so that it doesn’t feel so forced.

      Hope that’s helpful…

      • Totally agree, certain social settings increase the challenge.

        The one rule that supersedes all, I believe, is just what you said Jack — being genuinely interested.

        There are definitely mental hacks to help with that too — would be another interesting topic to get into!

  2. subash malik says:

    Thanks for providing good points.
    subash malik

  3. Birendra Sinha says:

    A. good listener at times becomes foolish.

  4. Great article. I really can’t stress the importance of points three and four. One of the most important aspects of being an effective listener is being able to ask clarifying and probing questions. Never just assume you know what someone means or wants. I see this every day where people get themselves into trouble because they never clarified what was needed or said in a conversation. It’s such a simple step that so many people overlook. I wrote extensively about this topic recently in in my blog. I really like this article, thanks for your insight.

  5. Vaibhav Sarin says:


    To Listen is to Love!! 😀

    Cheers!! 😀

  6. Alexandra says:

    Ever notice that there are times when you are simply not in the mood to listen? Or when it feels repressive? I find that taking time to be on your own to express those feelings, however you can, makes it easier for you to be more present in conversation. Or to at least know that you need to ask someone for their ear, rather than vying for their attention in a more passive-aggressive manner that could end making them feel like you’re not listening to them.

    • Hey Alexandra. What an astute comment. It can be liberating to just tell someone: I need you to listen. (Perhaps this is most salient for people who generally do all the listening. A close friend who does therapy work was sharing that she is always the one holding space for others and doesn’t seek out people to listen to her enough.) Anyway, you’ve got my mental wheels turning – thanks. -T.

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    I read a book recently that says the best way to gain someones respect is to listen to them coz a good listeneris always one step ahead

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