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The Power of Listening

The one thing that most people want in life is to be heard.  With over 6 billion of us in the world, we just want to know that someone, anyone, has heard what we said and acknowledged it.  As a general rule, people love to talk about themselves… and their kids, their jobs, their neighborhoods, what they did last week, what happened to them in the grocery store yesterday, and on and on.  The power of listening involves two things:  1)  the ability to build rapport with people and 2) the ability to know what people want and need.


We all want to have good relationships with other people.  It would be no fun to be by yourself all the time, and good relationships help us to achieve our goals.  Being a good listener is one of the best ways to build rapport with other people.  Essentially, skillful listening shows that you are interested in another person, and people tend to like other people who they feel are interested in them.  If you can get people talking when they are around you, and communicate to them that you are listening, they will enjoy being around you (and they probably won’t even know why).  Very few people are skillful listeners, so if you can improve your listening you will stand out from most other people.


We are often puzzled about what other people want, especially in a situation where we are trying to acheive something and we need other people to help us (which is basically 100% of the time).  What people want would not be as big of a mystery if you listen to what they are saying.  People don’t always say what they want directly, but if you pay attention to the emotion they are displaying when they talk about a particular thing you will begin to put the puzzle together.


1.  Ask Questions – preferably Open Questions

A listener’s favorite tool is a question.  Many of them in fact.  Good questions get people talking and show interest.  They can also be used to show that you’ve listened to what they just said, as in the case of a good follow up question, or to summarize or clarify what they said.  Open questions are questions that leave the answer open to the person being listened to.  You want to use a lot of these because they allow people to answer in their own way.

2.  Body Language

This is absolutely essential in listening.  Specifically, you want to make eye contact with the other person.  (Look away every once in a while or you’ll freak them out.)  Also, leaning your body towards the person indicates you are listening.  (Although, I’ve heard that there may be some gender differences with this one, where men who are leaning away are actually listening very intently.)

3.  Sincere Interest

Lastly, a prerequisite for all great listening is a sincere interest in the person that you are listening to.  Curious, sociable people will have an advantage with this one, because they are probably interested in everyone!  If you really are not that interested in the person you are trying to listen to, then you might want to consider that they are not someone who you should be trying to build a relationship with.  Listen to people who catch your interest in some way and you can’t go wrong.

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  1. Amen on the fact that people want to be heard Amanda!

    I’d add also like to add this about body language. Leaning away can mean listening and it can mean not listening. The key to understanding the dynamic (most of the time) is what the other person is doing. If they are mirroring or matching the other person then you’re likely to get an accurate idea of whether rapport is present.

    Also, some types of people never make eye contact and can still be engrossed in a conversation. There can be a tendency for others to think they are ignorant when it may very well be not the case.

    I agree 100% with #3 great listeners demonstrate that all the time. They make the person talking feel like they are the only person in the world.

    Nice article.

  2. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Tim – Thanks for adding these points about body language and eye contact. I guess the way we sometimes interpret body language is not always the way it’s intended! I will definitely keep your point about mirroring in mind. Thanks a lot!

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