Sorry, I wasn’t listening: 5 ways to model better listening skills


I have a confession to make when it comes to modeling good listening skills.  I’m an interrupter.

When I already know what someone is trying to say, or finish saying, isn’t it way more efficient to just cut right in so we can move on?

I know I shouldn’t do it.  I know it’s rude.  It drives me crazy when other people do it, so why do I?   And, I know it drives others crazy as well.  My husband and I spend way too much time re-creating conversations that only got half heard due to distractions, interruptions or one of us simply not paying full attention.

Since most of us aren’t very good listeners, it’s safe to say we can all use some help on this. And as a leader, I want to model good communication. Improving our listening skills is the first, and most notable place to start.

One of the best ways to encourage good listening in others is to model it yourself.  In other words, if you want to be heard, you better start hearing better yourself.

Here are five ways to model and practice better listening.

1. Be Self Aware.  Most of us aren’t aware we are as bad at listening as we really are.  So, the first and most important way to improve your listening is to know your own listening style. Ask someone you trust to give you honest feedback on how well you listen.  You may be surprised that others don’t see you as the same way you see yourself.

2. Be interested and attentive.   Forget about your cell phone and other distractions.  Maintain eye contact to show that you really are listening.  And please, don’t even try fake it. If your mind wanders off, ask the person to back up and repeat what they said.

3. Be patient.  People think faster than they speak.  Practice listening as though you have plenty of time (even if you think you don’t).  In other words, slow your listening down.  Don’t practice your reply in your head, just listen. And, when it’s your turn to talk think before you speak!

4. Don’t Interrupt.  Don’t cut someone off before they have finished speaking.  Ever. And if you accidentally do, apologize (and then shut up).  Sometimes it’s really difficult to not jump right in to and correct misconceptions or complete a sentence for someone. Make a conscious effort to respect the right for someone to finish their thought and express their opinion without interruption.

5. Listen to nonverbal messages.  Some experts say as much as 93% of our communication is nonverbal.  So, it’s critical to listen more to the nonverbal messages going on than to the words you hear.  Pay close attention to the tone of voice, facial expressions, energy level, posture, or changes in behavior patterns.  

Which of these areas (for me there is more than one) that you can do more of to become a better listener? Work on that one first.

Now, what did you want to finish saying?

Do you need some help with your communication challenges?  Please leave a comment below and feel free to check out my website at or send me an email.


Betty Lochner Photo

Betty Lochner is a communication specialist, author, and professional speaker who teaches individuals and organizations how to make small changes that make huge differences in their relationships at work and home – improving morale, confidence and productivity. She is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home and 52 Communication Tips. Both are also available on

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