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Listening Skills: Trying to Do Two Things at Once

March 19, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Listening

As a listener you need to be consciously ready to listen (or to concentrate) in order to ensure that the communication process as a whole is successful for all parties in it. Generally, people choose to listen to messages that are important, interesting, communicated by a person they like or respect, they feel like listening to, or that are about matters they have listened to in the past. But this selective kind of listening is unhelpful, particularly in the workplace, and often means that we may miss key information that we really need to hear.

Paying careful attention to a speaker will show that you have a positive attitude toward listening. Set aside your ego to focus on the speaker rather than on yourself. Do not fake attention by being physically present but not really following the information being conveyed. You can easily indicate that you want to be involved in the communication process by focusing on the speaker’s message the first time (and by maintaining good eye contact).

Although there are many things that you can do to better concentrate and listen, a few key ones are:

1. Minimize distractions (e.g. noise, phones ringing or interruptions) and give the speaker your full attention.

Good listening is about focusing on the speaker and giving him or her your full attention. Tune out from or try to eliminate any surrounding distractions so that you can concentrate on what the speaker is saying. Noisy equipment, holding conversations with others, phones ringing or interruptions will make it difficult for you to follow the speaker’s message. To attend to another person you also need to be comfortable and at ease within yourself. If you are tense or experiencing physical discomfort, it will show and you are likely to deter the speaker from talking to you. If you cannot pay careful attention to the speaker admit that this is a problem and schedule another time to get together. Aim to give the speaker your undivided attention.

2. Establish eye contact to indicate genuine interest in the speaker’s message.

We show another person that he or she has our attention when we look at them. Establish and maintain eye contact with the speaker most of the time. People generally value eye contact. By looking at the other person you will show genuine interest in his or her views and feelings. Your gaze should include natural movements as unbroken eye contact or a fixed stare could be embarrassing or distracting (in some cases culturally insensitive).

3. Build trust by conveying that you have the time and inclination to listen.

Build trust and understanding by showing that you are motivated to listen. Concentrate intently and try to relate to what the speaker is saying. It may be helpful to consider: (1) why you need to listen, (2) the purpose of what is being said, (3) what listening carefully will do for you, and (4) what the speaker is saying that you can use. Convey to others that they are worth your time by being ready to listen to their views and concerns.

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Listening Skills Video Vignette Set.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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