By Steve Czerniak, Subject Matter Expert, SCORE of Southeast Michigan

Improving listening skills is the first step in improving overall communications. Listening is an essential part of the overall communications process.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, listening is to “give one’s attention to a sound.” In the business world, the sound is the voice of others. Fundamentally, listening is about receiving data, information, knowledge, and wisdom from another. Everything we do must be intended to enable the full, accurate, and complete reception of the message(s) being sent.

The following three categories capture the most important focuses of good listening skills:


Be there for the other person. Focus your attention on the person speaking. Be in the moment. Make sure that the speaker knows that you are focused on them. Making eye contact, without staring, is a very genuine way to let the other person know that they have your attention. Another mechanism that I have used is to physically clear the space on the table or desk that separates the two of us. It is symbolic but it also forces me to remove other distractions that might catch my attention during the conversation. Electronic devices need to be put in the appropriate mode to not distract either person.

I will admit that a phone call has interrupted me. If I knew it was coming, I let the other person know that it might be happening during our time together. Otherwise, I apologized, vigorously. Only take it if it’s CRITICAL.

One at a Time

Only one person speaks at a time. Let the other person finish. Don’t formulate your response while the other person is speaking. In fact, delay providing a response until you’re sure the the other person is done with their complete thought. By the way, it is perfectly acceptable to leave a space in the conversation (between them speaking and you speaking). Yes, nobody’s talking and that’s OK.

Another device I’ve used is to write brief notes. When I say brief, I’m referring to writing down one or two key words to remind yourself.

Helpful Feedback

In electronic circuits, feedback is used to seek differences between the initial signal value and the desired value and to adjust the circuit’s output to make them match.

We all know when someone agrees or disagrees with what we’re saying. You can see it on their face. They might nod or gesture (keep it clean) to express their affirmation or disdain. Do this for others. Do it purposefully. Help the speaker to express themself. Help the speaker to know where their audience is on the topic.

Use rephrasing to give verbal feedback and verify reception. Don’t add a new idea. Focus on letting the speaker know that the message they were sending has been received with the meaning they had intended.

By the way, listening skills can help anyone, not just in the workplace but in their personal life as well.

About the Author

Steve Czerniak retired after a successful 37-year career as a leader and innovator. The last fifteen years were a series of opportunities that honed his skills as an internal consultant and “change agent.” In retirement, he is a volunteer consultant and a SCORE Subject Matter Expert for the Southeast Michigan chapter. His personal volunteer objective is to “derive personal satisfaction from helping others, and the organizations they operate, to develop and prosper.”

The Three Foundations of Listening