Education competencies: Listening

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Practices attentive and active listening; has the patience to hear people out; can accurately restate the opinions of others even when he or she disagrees.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Is attentive and listens to others Listens carefully, paying full attention to the speaker Has a good reputation for patiently and politely listening to others Practices attentive and active listening, often paraphrasing the message of the speaker to ensure understanding
Allows others the opportunity to speak Has the patience to hear people out Takes time to digest what he or she hears before responding Makes solid eye contact, intuitively absorbing the gist of the message
Is considerate of the opinions of others Considers opinions of others even when he or she disagrees Refrains from interrupting or correcting the speaker, allowing the other person to make his or her point Accurately restates the opinions of others even when he or she disagrees

Overdoing listening

  • May spend too much time listening
  • May avoid necessary action
  • Others may confuse listening with agreement

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • Can I accurately restate what I just heard someone say without editorializing?
  • When I listen to someone, am I thinking about what I am going to say when he or she is finished?
  • Do I allow others to speak without interrupting them or finishing their sentences?
  • Did I drum my fingers or pencil, fidget, or stare while listening to someone today?
  • When getting negative personal feedback, do I listen without getting defensive?
  • Has anyone thanked me and told me I am I good listener lately?

To avoid overdoing listening, ask yourself:

  • Am I trying too hard to appear attentive?
  • Am I conveying agreement rather than just listening?
  • Am I avoiding taking action?

Interview questions

  • Listening involves hearing the speaker and understanding the speaker's point of view. Describe how you do this.
  • Effective listening includes patiently hearing people out and absorbing the speaker's message before responding. Describe a time when you were able to do this despite it being difficult to do so.
  • One of the most difficult aspects of effective listening is to accurately restate the opinions of others even when you disagree with the speaker. Share a time when you effectively did this.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Show that you are listening with your behavior: Keep your mouth closed, make eye contact, take notes, and refrain from fidgeting. Paraphrase what was just said to the speaker's satisfaction.
  • Restrain yourself from interrupting: Wait until the speaker is finished before commenting. Allow people to finish their own sentences.
  • Ask questions: Good listeners ask probing and clarifying questions to get a good understanding of what they hear.
  • Listen equally to everyone: Practice listening to those you don't usually listen to, and listen for content.
  • Listen to those who waste a lot of time, but try to help them: You may need to interrupt someone who rambles and try to help that person communicate in a better way. Summarize what he or she has said; help him or her categorize to stop rambling; tactfully tell this person to be shorter next time.
  • Listen under duress: If you are being verbally attacked or criticized, keep calm. Consider your task to accurately understand what is being said, not to accept or refute. Try to absorb the energy of your opponent to manage him or her. Ask clarifying questions without hitting back. Allow others to talk until they run out of venom.
  • Work on your listening non-verbals: Work at eliminating the non-verbal signals that indicate you are not listening (furrowed brow, blank stare, body agitation, finger or pencil drumming). Ask others who know you well what your non-verbals may be.
  • Listen to people you don't like: Look for the good in everyone, and try to see the positive things others may see in them. Give them a second chance.
  • Listen to people you like: It may be necessary to tactfully interrupt someone to keep a discussion focused. Listen to problems completely without offering advice. Ask chronic complainers to write down their problems and solutions. If someone is complaining about others, suggest he or she talks to them instead, without agreeing or disagreeing.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Find and spend time with an expert to learn something new to you.
  • Go to a campus as a recruiter.
  • Go on a trip to a foreign country you've never been to before.
  • Interview outsiders on their view of your organization, and present your findings to others in your organization.
  • Become someone's assigned mentor, coach, sponsor, or champion.
  • Make peace with an enemy or someone you've disappointed, had trouble with, or don't get along with.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Consult with an expert in an area of concern to you. Describe your situation, and receptively listen to this person’s advice and counsel. Try the advice before you reject it.
    • Interview a model of what you need to learn. Observe this person performing successfully, and ask him or her how he or she became good at it. Ask this person how he or she assesses situations to determine when and how to use his or her skills.
    • Form a learning network with others working on the same problem. Look for a variety of people inside and outside your organization. Give feedback to each other; try new things together; share successes and failures, lessons, and learning.
    • Debrief others after a successful or non-successful event. Ask them about the decisions they made and what they might do differently.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Be a student of others. Study the behavior of other people. Determine what behaviors are effective and ineffective, and incorporate what you can in your own behavior.
    • Learn from ineffective behavior. Distance yourself from your feelings, and explore why the ineffective behavior didn't work.
    • Learn from remote models. Read a book or an article about someone, and observe what he or she does or doesn't do well.
    • Get feedback from your direct reports. Set a positive tone, and don't retaliate if you don't agree.
    • Learn from limited staff. Look for ways to bring out the best in others who may lack skills or experience. Motivate by being a positive force, even in negative situations, and by giving feedback. Recognize when to stop trying something and start over.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Participate in insight events. Take a course designed to assess skills and provide feedback to help you develop self-knowledge

Recommended readings

  • Arrendondo, Lani.Communicating Effectively.New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2000.
  • Barker, Larry Ph.D., and Kittie Watson, Ph.D.Listen Up: At Home, at Work, in Relationships: How to Harness the Power of Effective Listening.Irvine, CA: Griffin Trade Paperback, 2001.
  • Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover BoltonPeople Styles at Work—Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better.New York: AMACOM, 1996
  • Burley-Allen, Madelyn.Listening: The Forgotten Skill.New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1995.
  • Hybels, Saundra, and Richard L. Weaver.Communicating Effectively.New York: McGraw-Hill Text, 2001.
  • Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz.The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.New York: The Free Press, 2003.
  • Lumsden, Gay, and Donald L. Lumsden.Communicating in Groups and Teams: Sharing Leadership.New York: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999.
  • Nichols, Michael P.The Lost Art of Listening.New York: The Guilford Press, 1995.
  • Van Slyke, Erik J.Listening to Conflict.New York: AMACOM, 1999.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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