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THE Most Important Communication Skill

Updated: Jan 27

Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people with nothing to say.” Andy Stanley

I believe that listening is the most important communication skill. Being a good listener will improve your ability to influence others and help avoid conflict and misunderstandings. In addition, it validates the other person and makes them feel valued.

So, how good of a listener are you? I think I do well at work for the most part. But if I am on the phone or virtual meeting, I’m a relentless multitasker. I know, not good! At home, my listening isn’t so great. My husband works in Information Technology. When he gets going on a techy topic, I tend to tune him out, and it sounds kind of like the Charlie Brown teacher–whomp, whomp, whomp. This doesn’t seem to faze him though. He keeps talking.


Let’s assess how you are doing with your listening at work - we'll leave outside of work out of it for now but that's important too.

Rate yourself from one (lowest) to five (highest) on each statement below.

  1. I don't formulate my response in my head when listening to another person.

  1. I repeat points back in conversations to clarify my understanding of what the other person is saying.

  2. To get people to elaborate on their points, I ask open-ended questions.

  3. I try to read the other person's body language while listening.

  4. I don't interrupt others when they are speaking.

How did you do? I think most of us know what to do to be a good listener. We just often don’t do it.

The Biggest Problem

The biggest problem with listening is that most of the time we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. I know that I catch myself frequently formulating my response as I am “listening” to the other person. It takes concentration and effort to move past this tendency.

The way to listen most effectively is through active listening. When we actively listen, we make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but more importantly, we try to understand the complete message being sent.

Below are some steps that you can take to be a better listener based on the LISTEN acronym. Clever, right? I must admit that I didn’t come up with it totally on my own. I borrowed and adapted it from an episode of Pastor Rick Warren’s Daily Hope podcast.


Look and listen with your body language.



Use your eye contact, body language, and gestures to convey your attention.

  • Make eye contact–aim for 60 to 70 percent of the time.

  • Nod occasionally.

  •  Smile and use other facial expressions.

  • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.

  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes and uh huh.

  • Make notes if appropriate.

Invest in the interaction.

Give the speaker your undivided attention and focus on receiving the intended message.

  • Put aside distracting thoughts.

  • Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal.

  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors (i.e., side conversations, your phone).

  • Avoid multitasking.

  • Avoid interrupting.

Share their feelings, not your solution.

As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said, not to impose your solution.

  • Summarize the speaker's comments and feelings as you understand them.

  • Resist the urge to share your solution.

  • Utilize empathy statements like, “I understand how you feel. I’d feel that way too in your situation.” 

Tune into any underlying feelings or issues.

Tune into their body language/tone and try to identify if there are underlying issues that aren’t readily apparent through what they are saying verbally.


Engage the speaker with open-ended questions.

Ask open-ended follow-up questions to clarify, show interest, and increase your understanding.


Never judge until you have all the information.

Don’t jump to conclusions or make judgments until you have listened to the full message.


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