How to be a Better Listener

How to be a Better Listener

By Chin Wei Lian
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Here’s how good communication — even silence — can breed success

It is easy to assume that leaders are good because they are good speakers. After all, prominent CEOs like Jack Ma or Warren Buffett are always seen giving speeches on stage with ease.

In India, leaders like MasterCard’s Ajaypal Singh Banga and PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, are master speakers. Eloquence, more than anything, seems to be the defining quality of a good leader.

Or is it? Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, disagrees. According to his LinkedIn blog post, to be a good leader you have to first become a good listener:

“Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice. This can mean following online comments as closely as board meeting notes, or asking the frontline staff for their opinions as often as the CEOs. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them," he writes.

If you are looking for actionable tips to become a better listener, here are a few to get you started. In our recent Ask a Million survey, 20 percent feel that success is a key factor to living fully — so start by listening fully!


Not every occasion calls for you to wax lyrical about yourself or your ideas. Conversations, be they formal or informal, are two-way streets. Instead of dominating every dialogue, take a minute every once in a while to give others a chance to express their views.


As Indian-born advisor to some of the biggest companies in the US, Ram Charan, explains, one out of four corporate leaders has a listening deficit. Pen and paper is a simple weapon against that.

When Charan worked with the CEO of Honeywell Larry Bossidy, he noticed how he often jotted down words on paper, “capturing what he perceived to be the key insights and issues being brought to his attention. It was a simple technique that disciplined him to listen intently for the important content and focus follow-up questions on points that really mattered.”

Plus, people are always flattered to see their words are important enough to be recorded. “The person on the other end of the conversation will be gratified that you are truly grasping the essence of their thoughts and ideas,” writes Charan. Better still, “this gratification will motivate and energise them to create more thoughts and solutions. Listening opens the door to truly connecting and is the gateway to building relationships.”


Closed-mindedness breeds defensiveness. When you are walled in with your own opinions, nothing the other party says is going to get into your head. Instead, accept the possibility that others may have a different or even better point of view.


Intuitive listeners are always listening out for opportunities to build upon a conversation. And while it may seem weird, sometimes you can add to a discussion by saying nothing.

Stand-up comic Sanjay Manaktala runs regular interview podcasts. He admits that “when I have guests I want to jump in with my own tidbits. But if you allow people time to breathe and say something, then they pause. There’s half a second of tension — and then they start giving more material.”

A comfortable pause, then, allows people to cement their thoughts and open up. “That’s something people overlook; that silence can be good,” Sanjay says.


After everything has been said and done, take some time to reiterate the points made: “So you say you are feeling nervous about the upcoming conference…”

Not only does this help put your thoughts in order, it shows that you have been listening to the opinions of others. And don’t forget this works in digital conversation too: “I know in your email you mentioned you are concerned about the upcoming conference…”