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7 Ways to be a Better Listener in Conversation

7 Ways to be a Better Listener in Conversation

We all want to be understood, but what are we willing to do to better understand? Empathetic conversation requires that we bring our best to the table — not just in what we say, but in how we listen. Mindful listening can be hard, especially when we consider the multitude of internal and external factors that distract us; not enough sleep, never-ending deadlines, general anxiety, and fear can prevent us from showing up when it matters most. Here are 7 ways that we can check ourselves to check into a conversation that needs our presence:

Put the Pause on Social

Silence notifications - or turn your phone off altogether. While we think we’re capable of multitasking, we can only process a short amount of the information that enters our brain. Minimizing digital distractions can help assure we absorb more from our IRL interactions.

Time check, please?

Planning a hard convo? Set a timer. It might feel a bit awkward at first, but having a clear end-time can relieve pressure to problem solve, cut off straying thoughts, and help us stay focused on just being present. If we do it professionally, why not integrate it personally?

Observe, Listen, Repeat

Miscommunication is at the root of lots of contention and disappointment. Practice repeating what your conversational partner has just said before responding - this ensures that they feel heard and that you understand what they’re trying to communicate in real time.

Bring a paper and pen

Good listeners actively study conversation. Intentional listening is not passive, so being mindful can require real physical work. Taking notes can help keep our mind and body in synch, whether that’s during an emotional chat with a friend or serious meeting with your boss.

Take care of business

There’s nothing worse than an empty stomach or full bladder that you can’t take care of. Try to prepare for a conversation by eating or using the bathroom prior. Distractions aren’t just external - if we feel comfortable physically, we prevent our minds from needing to tend to those basic needs.

The eyes say it all

We like attention, and nothing says focus like eye contact. Maintaining direct gaze during conversation helps us and others feel not only heard, but seen. There’s much that is communicated on the face (hello, body language) that might not be said through words. 


Practice may not always make perfect, but it can make better. Being a truly intentional, empathetic listener does not come naturally to most people - which is sooo okay. It’s a skill that needs to be honed. Consider being selective in who you’re choosing to devote your attention to. If you’re repeatedly choosing to open your ears to the wrong people, you might come to feel used or drained and thus resist the opportunity to listen in the future.


by Rosa Sierra