Listening challenge: Three ways to improve this week

Are you listening? The Royal Family of Arnold, California. 

Are you listening? The Royal Family of Arnold, California. 

As a communicator, one of the things that became apparent early on has been the lack of listening courses or how-tos. Even for those of you who are not in the communications profession have taken your share of classes on speaking, giving a speech, how to pitch, etc. However, the listening category has been very minimal to non-existent.

A lot of us don’t think twice about listening. We do it naturally, right? Well, hearing and listening are two separate things, and I am sure many of you would agree that there is a lot that we hear each day, but we listen to much less. As technology advances and we continue to multi-task, most of our listening turns into hearing.

Moments when I really listened

When I was in college I did a study abroad in Mexico. On day one, I entered a university level class with my Mexican classmates.

The difference between the first day of my social sciences course was this:

Me: Spent 90 minutes actively listening and hanging onto each word the professor lectured.

Res of the class: Didn’t need to work as hard, following along half-heartedly, laughing at the jokes.

Why? Well, I was still perfecting my Spanish skills. So, I strained to really understand the fast-moving concepts, jokes and riddles, while the others laughed at the professor’s witty stories, leisurely taking notes, but nothing to heavy, because, hey, it was the first day, so it was just basics, rules and syllabus.

I remember walking out of that class that first day, as well as many days in the first few weeks, utterly exhausted as I really maximized on my listening efforts, because my academic performance depended on it.

Fast forward into my career. As a facilitator it is vital to have strong listening skills. When there is a complex topic, or strong opinions, it is even more important to listen and confirm what you have heard. This helps not only you, as the facilitator, summarize and check what is being presented within a group, but allows for everyone to have a common understanding of an expressed opinion or presented concept. After facilitating a session, or especially after a few days in a workshop, I am very exhausted. The level of listening is much higher than that of which I use on a day-to-day basis.

What are some ways you can flex your listening muscles? I present the Listening Challenge. This week, try the following three tips and see how your listening improves:


Mirroring is repeating back the same concept to the person that has just explained something, using the same words and phrases that they used.

Sally: I would love to participate in a creative project with my colleagues, once I end my current project.

Your response to Sally: Your saying, you’d love to participate in a creative project with your colleagues, once you end your current project.

It sounds simple enough, but it can often be challenging. I find if we are not completely tuned in, we may not be able to mirror very well. It is a true test of your listening abilities. Try to mirror someone in your next conversation, and await their affirmation on what has been said.


Most of us are probably more familiar with paraphrasing, than with mirroring, and it may be something we do more often. We could always do much more, especially if we are looking to improve our listening skills. Basic paraphrasing is summarizing what someone says, potentially using different language than they used.

Dequinder: My work involves spending time with different departments, including senior management, human resources and IT. With each department, I do 1-1 meetings, which are intimate and informative. With my colleagues I find out their preferences for communication; their preferences for communication with each other, with other departments and externally.

Your response: Your work involves spending time with different departments with which you do 1-1 interviews to determine their communication preferences.

Again, if we don’t fully understand or actively listen to the speaker, we may not be able to para-phrase very well. Don’t worry if the concept is complex, or there is a lot of jargon that trips you up. Para-phrasing is a nice way to clarify your understanding and improves with practice.


This is one we talk about extensively, but we often times overlook or forget about in practice. Listening with your body is essential to improving your skills. More times than not, we have a lot of distractions, including tablets, cell phones, meetings where everyone is on a laptop, or we are simply not tuned in entirely. Therefore, giving someone your full, undivided attention, although sometimes feels like a rarity, is another key component to perfecting your listening skills.

Next time you are engaged in a conversation try to:

·         Put away your phone, at least out of sight and preferably on silent

·         Put away any other electronics

·         Look at your speaker with both eyes

·         Sit in a way that is “open”, as in avoid crossing legs, crossing arms, or crossing brows

·         Try to keep your face neutral, or happy (see avoid crossing brows)

Try all three of these ways to flex your listening skills this week and continue to do so as you will notice over time your skills will improve. We live in a world where we are usually in a hurry or rushing through an explanation, but if we take extra time to practice these three things, we will essentially save time and effort later as we are likely to avoid miscommunication. When you use these tactics in the coming week, whether it is with a colleague or a friend, you will realize that not only you are listening and understanding better, but the speaker will be more receptive and engaged, as you have shown your interest and demonstrated your understanding and poriority in listening to them.

Listening Challenge! Give it a try this week and let us know how you go! Drop a message below.