Influence Others by Being a Better Listener

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Do you want to be more influential? One of the best ways to build trust and influence others is to actively listen to them. It makes people feel respected and understood. It also makes them more open to what you have to say. You can’t influence anyone if they won’t listen to you, and the best way to get someone else to listen to you is to listen to them first. This is Dr. Stephen Covey’s Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listening fully is simple in concept, but often difficult in practice. That’s because there are several blocks that get in the way of our ability to listen according to 4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication by Benito C. Leal, III, which are listed below.

Blocks to effective listening:

  • Mind Reading – Thinking you already know what they are thinking and saying without really listening to them.
  • Rehearsing – Thinking of how you will respond instead of fully listening.
  • Filtering/Selective Listening – Hearing only what you want to hear instead of what they are actually saying.
  • Daydreaming – Thinking of other things while someone is talking to you.
  • Advising – Jumping in with your unsolicited suggestions or solutions to their problem.
  • Judging – Analyzing, critiquing, and contesting what the speaker is saying.
  • Condescending – The One Upper – Overriding what the other person is saying. (“That’s nothing… Wait until you hear what happened to ME!”)

I recently had a situation where I was trying to explain my concern over a medical test with my doctor, and she failed miserably at active listening. She listened just long enough to hear my concern and then proceeded to give me all the reasons why my concern was illegitimate. This did not make my concern go away. Instead, it made me consider finding another doctor. That’s how important listening is.

The proper response would have been to first clarify her understanding of my concern to show that she actually listened and cared (“So you are concerned about…?”). Then she could have asked, “Would it be helpful if I gave you some information that might help alleviate your concern?” Lastly, she could have asked, “What would alleviate your concern or how would you like to proceed?” This would have been listening with the intent to learn and understand rather than the intent to reply. Below are some tips for active listening from the Ken Blanchard Companies’ First Time Manager Essential Skills training course.

Active listening tips:

  • Reflect on the importance of the other person and the relationship.
  • Listen with a mindset that others have valuable information to share.
  • Clear your mind of other thoughts and distractions.
  • Set aside preconceptions. Avoid making assumptions.
  • Resist the urge to plan how you will respond.
  • Be present and focused.
  • Respond so the other person feels heard, understood, and valued.

When you actively listen to others and make them feel understood, you increase your influence exponentially. Good listeners are perceived as friendly, likeable, and trustworthy. We are drawn to these people and are more willing to listen to them. It takes effort and preparation to listen effectively. It is one of the most difficult skills to master, but one of the most important skills you could ever have.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Dr. Maya Angelou

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Dr. Stephen R. Covey

“The psychological equivalent of air is to feel understood.” – Dr. Steven R. Covey


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