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How well do you listen?

December 1, 2009
by Bernie Reifkind
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Let's assume that there is a verifiable “Most Needed Business Skills” list that every executive must master. Listening belongs at the top of list.

Your skill set, educational background, years of experience, economic influence, tenure … none of it matters if you are not a good listener.

The biggest problems that most of us encounter in the workplace are due to miscommunication or by making assumptions that have not been clarified. It's not about hearing what you want to hear, it's about listening to the content of the message. Plural inference is a legal term which simply means more than one interpretation. How often do we misconstrue what we are told because we did not listen?

Clarity of the message being conveyed is crucial. The following nine steps can be taken to become a world-class listener:

  1. Give the speaker your undivided attention.

  2. Ask questions.

  3. Be sure to concentrate on the speaker's words and resist the temptation to tune out their message.

  4. Make sure that what you hear comes directly from the speaker and not from your interpretation of their words. Many people are guilty of jumping to conclusions which can damage their listening ability. People who do this often don't hear the speaker's message because it is blocked out by their own assumptions.

  5. Empathize. When someone shares information with you, put yourself in his shoes. Doing this will allow the two of you to discover solutions more easily and will also help you appreciate a perspective different from your own.

  6. Creating mental images of the speaker's words is another way to become a better listener.

  7. Asking questions that relate to the speaker's presentation can also help you to become a better listener. It's important to ask questions without allowing the formulation of the questions to interfere with your listening.

  8. Respond verbally and nonverbally. Using an enthusiastic tone shows you're interested in what the speaker is saying.

  9. Practicing your listening skills is another way to become a better listener. Make a conscientious effort to apply your listening skills each time you speak to someone or attend a presentation.

Listening skills are just as critical as speaking skills. Being a good listener will not only ensure that you are receiving the correct information but will affirm to the speaker that you care about the information being presented.

Bernie Reifkind is CEO and founder of Premier Search (, a healthcare executive search firm in Los Angeles. He can be reached by e-mail at or (800) 801-1400.
Long-Term Living 2009 December;58(12):34