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Executive Leadership Podcast #190: 10 Tips for Improving Your Ability to Listen

June 2, 2022
Executive Leadership Podcast #190: 10 Tips for Improving Your Ability to Listen

We often give ourselves credit for being better listeners than we really are. Today we look at ten tips learned from personal experience that help improve your ability to listen.

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Perry Holley: Welcome to the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I’m Perry Holley, a Maxwell Leadership facilitator and coach. 

Chris Goede: And I’m Chris Goede, executive vice president with Maxwell Leadership. Welcome, and thank you for joining. Just as a quick reminder, before we get started, if you’re interested in submitting a question, or maybe you have a topic that you’d like Perry and I to discuss in an upcoming podcast, I want to encourage you to visit And there, if you’ll just click on this lesson inside there, you can find a form where you can fill out and our team will receive that email for you, or respond to you with any needs that you may have. Well, today’s topic is 10 tips for improving your ability to listen. And I’m excited to go through this and more importantly, my team and my wife’s probably excited that I’m going to go through this with you, but I’m also excited and surprised that there’s only 10 of them. 

For me, there’s lots of different tips that I would need to be able to listen a little better, but I think we often give ourselves credit for listening better than we do. And there are our team or other people that are close to us would maybe say, “Hey, I think that’s an area that you need to work on.” And I think if we’re being honest, most of us then would get back to the point where we’d say, “No, this is a skill set. This is a competence that as people in general, that we need to work on to become better at.” There’s a couple things I want to share before we jump in, statistics, just to throw out to you here that I thought were very interesting as we were looking at this topic for today’s lesson. And I want you to think about these stats and how important it is in regards to us listening. 

So 85% of what we know currently we have learned through listening. 85% of what we know we’ve learned through listening. In a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening. So if you’re going to spend 45% of your time, I hope that you apply some of these tips we’re going to talk about so that you become more effective in 45% of your time during the day. And then my last comment here is humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate. So at times I may have to ask Perry to slow down a little bit so that I better understand, I can better listen. But I saw these as we were doing a little bit of research on our lesson today. And I was just fascinated by the fact that you put that data behind what we do every day, men and women listening to this podcast all around the world. And man, it just proves the fact that it’s an area that we all need to work on, because it’s extremely important. 

Perry Holley: Absolutely agree. One thing I think we can all agree on is that we’re not all as good listeners as we think we are, and there’s always room for improvement here, especially in the day and time where we are with so many distractions, so many things to take our mind away from what we’re doing. This is a lot of on my personal experience and my personal learning, so I hope it will add value to our listeners today. So let’s get started. I can’t believe you didn’t comment on two sets of five, 10. I did hear from your wife, she had a couple she wanted me to put in for you. I’ll alert you when those come by. 

Chris Goede: I bet you did. 

Perry Holley: Number one. I call it W-A-I-T, the word wait, I learned this when I was a sales guy that. I learned that when the customer was talking, I did better. So when I had my notepad out, before I was taking notes in a customer meeting, I would just write W-A-I-T across the top of the paper. And it stands for ‘Why Am I Talking?’ It was a great reminder that my job was to turn it back to the customer, to keep the customer talking. And it really is. It works for all of life, our natural temptation to jump in and to speak when others are wanting that same thing. Can I give them the gift of listening by asking myself, “Why am I talking?” W-A-I-T. Silly, but I like it. 

Chris Goede: No, I like that a lot. Matter of fact, that might be the highlight. The biggest takeaway today, as you listen to this podcast is to have W-A-I-T on your paper or in any type of meeting or conversation, even in the sales world. If you’re in a sales organization or selling, by the way, we’re all selling something. I think that’s huge. I think oftentimes we talk too much, so I love that. Well, the second one is pay rapt attention. R-A-P-T. And I think Perry put this in here to kind of throw me off to see if I knew where we were going, but this is where it’s not just paying attention, but paying rapt attention where you’re just enthralled, you’re engrossed in the conversation, and you’re extremely interested and fascinated by it. 

One of the words that we use a lot is be curious, and in a way that just shows that you are enthralled in this conversation, that you want to learn more, that you are paying attention to it, and that you’re just not listening to the… What was that? Charlie Brown, back in your day, I think was that? [inaudible 00:05:34]. That’s right. 

Perry Holley: Back in my day. 

Chris Goede: I just wanted to make sure you were listening to me. 

Perry Holley: I got it. That’s good. I found that just one thing to pay attention, but when you add that rapt attention, it’s a different level. I found for myself, I was trying to be interesting to others. So I’m trying to get people interested in me instead of being interested in them, that’s an old Dale Carnegie quote, that really fascinates me. But when you focus more on them, you kind of unlock the secret to gaining influence. And I think that’s the game right there. 

But number three, you were laughing at this earlier before we got on air, but about develop a mind like water, and yes, this is a little martial artist thing. Actually, I think it started with Bruce Lee in martial arts and movie of fame, but it’s really… I like it because it reminds me to have that mental and emotional state where my head is clear, I’m able to create and respond freely. I’m unencumbered with distractions or a split focus. When listening, I want to become free from all this trying to steal my mind while someone else is communicating. And that mind like water is really, to me is an interesting, just use of words to say, “Hey, let it go. Just flow, get in the moment.” And I think it’s a little odd you don’t… I don’t hear people teaching on that much, but I think it’s something I hold onto. 

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Chris Goede: I love that you worked Bruce Lee into a leadership podcast, that’s awesome. All right. Number four, on your tips of 10 is listen to understand, not respond. And we all have been in conversations with individuals. And maybe if you haven’t been that, maybe you’re the one that’s doing this quite a bit, but oftentimes, this is something to where we’re tempted to be thinking about what is the next response that we want to have? What is the next question that we want to have? And you’re not really thinking about, and trying to be curious and understand conversation. You’re like, “What is the next story that I can add onto that?” Or yes, that. And you may even be thinking about, you’re trying to be relational and we call this sometimes even one upping the story. But by doing that, you’re creating a thought and/or listening to your point to respond, not necessarily to understand. 

And so we just want to encourage you to make sure you’re listening to understand, not necessarily to respond. And one tip here is to listen with the intent to discover the best question you can ask them about what they’re talking about and not to respond, but rather to… we call it sometimes that QBQ. What’s the question that you can go behind and ask this answer that you’re getting from them? And I think if you be able to do that, once they finish speaking, I think that’ll lead you to this fourth tip, which is to listen to understand, not respond. 

Perry Holley: And I can add to that. I’m going to listen with the intent, not only to understand, but also to serve so that I’m listening with an intention about how can I serve or add value to this person? And I love that question behind the question as well. Number five is something I picked up years ago, also in the sales arena, but I called it dare to be dumb. And it’s very tempting to want to show off what we know. And when someone else is talking you can find yourself topping their story. I was infamous for this at around family gatherings, when someone would share a travel story. “Well, goodness graces, I’ve been in 48 countries. You want to talk travel stories? I got some stories I’ll unload on you right now,” but that’s not why they were telling a story to tempt me into telling a bigger story. 

I learned this with a sales guy. I was a sales guy and had a tech specialist with me. And this guy had a whole number of acronyms behind his name, starting with PhD. And then it went down for all his accreditations, certifications, qualifications, ramifications, everything. He had everything on this card. He was the smartest guy I knew. In the customer meeting, he asked a question that I just couldn’t fathom that he would not know the answer to. I had to hold on when I fall off my chair, that why would you ask that question? 

As we were going to get a coffee after the call, I said, “Do you not know the answer to that question?” He says, “Of course I thought I did, but what I find, Perry, is if I can just dare to be dumb and ask good questions, you never know what I might learn that I don’t know. That I can learn something from everyone. And that customer had a different perspective, a different viewpoint of this topic. And I just really wanted to hear it confirmed what I knew, but every now and then I learned something new,” and I went, “Oh man, I got to write that down because I don’t dare to be dumb. I dare to show you how smart I am. And that keeps me talking and not listening.” So I thought that was a good one for me personally. 

Chris Goede: Absolutely. I love that. Number six on the list of 10: master the pause. And what I think about on this one is the times that we have interrupted people. Or, how many times in a conversation have you interrupted somebody, you say, “I’m sorry. Go ahead and finish.” And then you comment, right? Because we are in such a rush to… man, I don’t know, to add to it, to maybe ask a question to where, if we will just master the pause and make sure that they’re just not taking a breath to say something else, but they’re really finished with their thought or what they want to tell us. And then you can follow up on that. And this is where it’s good to be a patient and be comfortable sometimes in the silence. 

You and I have a good friend of ours that’s an excellent coach, executive level coach for us. And I think he’s a master at this. He is a master at mastering the pause. And what’s interesting is the depth of conversations he’s able to get in and the things that come out because he is okay with that. He’s okay with silence between two people. He’s okay, and he’s understanding if I wait long enough that I want to make sure they’re finished because oftentimes our brain continues to work and we’re not finished. So anyways, that’s a great tip, which is master the pause. Make sure that you’re not interrupting or jumping in before they’re done with their thought or reflecting on a certain question that you’ve already asked them and set up for. I think this is key, especially if you’re coaching people. And that’s where the first thing I thought about was this executive coach we have does a fantastic job at this. 

Perry Holley: He’s so good at waiting out the silent. Most of us aren’t comfortable with silence. And you’re right, he’s so comfortable that oftentimes I think I’ve lost a cell signal, “Are you there? Are you still there?” 

Chris Goede: That’s right. 

Perry Holley: But he’s just listening. That’s really good. It leads to number seven. If you are mastering the pause and I’ve noticed that people, if you don’t jump in, they will almost always continue talking. But I, number seven for me was the ‘tell me more.’ If I can use those words, tell me more, to encourage the person to continue talking. You’ll blow people away with this because nobody is encouraging them to keep talking. Everybody’s waiting for you to take a breath so you can jump in and start talking, but it really helps give people the freedom and the peace to say, “I’m going to be able to continue my thought. I’m going to be able to finish what I need to say.” A couple other ones I’ve learned over the years was after ‘tell me more,’ what happened next? What else did you do? Showing that I’m listening, but I’m not trying to interrupt or top your story or cut you off. I really want to hear what you have to say. And there are many ways to encourage others to communicate freely and know that you’re truly listening. 

Chris Goede: That’s good. Number eight on our list is be teachable. We should never stop learning, never stop growing. And I think as sometimes I would say the longer that you have been in your role, or as a leader or in your industry or your niche, you feel like you have, well, you’ve come to a place where you know it all and you don’t have that teachable spirit. I think that shows a level of humility. And it also shows that we value everyone in every conversation. And there are things that we can learn from everybody and every conversation. And I think if you value people that you’ll be able to have this tip number eight, which is be teachable. 

Perry Holley: I think teachable leads to trust. And it also leads to influence with others. So number nine, always remembering to mind my non-verbals. Are you making… we’re teaching this now that you make people feel something. You’re always making people feel something, what are you making them feel? And so my non-verbals can say more than my words when it comes to communication. So my face, my eyes, my posture, leaning in, leaning back, making people feel comfortable and you’re there and that you’re paying attention. Don’t let your non-verbals undermine your great effort at trying to listen. 

Chris Goede: And you say this, and I think this is very appropriate right here, where you talk about the fact that people are watching you all the time. So they’re watching as a leader, they’re watching your body language as you’re listening to other people. And so be very aware of that. Obviously you want to be listening, but if you seem disconnected in moments like this, as a leader, people are watching you and then in turn, that’s going to become contagious in your culture. And so be aware of that. Number 10, be here now. Man, this is so good. This being present is really what you’re saying here and on this tip number 10. And don’t have any distractions, which by the way, we have tons of distractions right now in our world. And we’ve all been having conversations with somebody that’s on their phone or either texting or it’s something real important, “Yeah, keep talking.” That doesn’t work when it comes to being a good listener. 

And I was talking to a leader the other day, and we were talking about… we were asking people the question, “Do you live more in the past? Are you in the present or are you out in the future? Where are you at? And it was interesting because he said that he was talking to somebody and he lives so much and get so concerned about what’s going to happen in the future that they called it future tripping, which is that he’s not even in certain situations in conversations. He’s so worried about this, that he’s out here so concerned about that he is not present. And he is not being in the moment when he is listening. Listen, you can do that on your own time, or you can worry about the past and you can go through all that. But when you’re engaged in a conversation and you are listening, do your best to be present. 

Perry Holley: Very good. And I just want to encourage… I’ll let you wrap it up for us, but I just want to encourage our listeners that while this seems like a work lesson, this is a life lesson. This is really at home equally, as much as maybe even more at work. We tend to, I know I have in the past is try harder at work to be more likable and more patient. And because I don’t want to upset anybody, but at home I tend to let all that go. And I think we got that backwards. So trying to put these 10 in, they’re all good. They all have a place, but to be a better listener at home with my significant people in my life and to make sure that I’m giving them that gift of listening, which is really the gift of value. I’m valuing you because I’m giving you something I can’t get back, which is time. And so, for me, it’s really been a great thing to apply at home as well as at work. 

Chris Goede: Well, that’s good. Well, as we wrap up, here’s a couple thoughts for you. People want to be heard, right? They want their voice to matter. No matter as Perry talked about whether it’s professionally or personally. And so the way to do that is truly to become a good listener. And there’s a difference between hearing somebody and listening. It’s been told to me before, “Hey, I know you hear me, but are you listening to me?” 

Perry Holley: [inaudible 00:18:11]. 

Chris Goede: Like that. And so just make sure that you’re taking these 10 principles and really listening. And here’s the deal we talked about earlier about the percentages. As a leader, you increase your capacity as a leader and it helps you grow the better that you become at listening. And so remember, no matter the level that we are as a leader, I mentioned this just a minute ago, no matter how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing, do not get to a place to where you have an… you’re unaware of the fact that you’re not a good listener because you’ll stop growing and then it’ll be contagious for your team. And so I think these 10 principles, although they’re simple, what I love about them is you can go back and make them very applicable to becoming a better listener. 

Perry Holley: Fantastic. Thank you, Chris. And reminder, if you want to get that learner guide that has these 10 listed out for you, as well as leave us a question or a comment, or as Chris said, give me an idea for a session writing. I’m coming up with them, but I need help. You can do all that at We always love to hear from you. And we’re always grateful you’d spend this time with us. That’s all today from the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast. 

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