Nine Ways to Listen

Nine Ways to Listen By JoJo Tabares Listening is the most important communication skill.  It's rule #1 in JoJo's Communication Handbook.   Listening is so important because it allows us to understand our audience which aids us in tailoring our message to them.  Listening helps us know when someone has misunderstood us, is angry with us, or is confused.  Listening to others is a gift we give them as they have a chance to communicate what is important to them. People have asked me HOW?  How do we listen, really listen to others?  What do we listen for?  Listening may sound easy, but it's actually a very complicated skill and it's essential for ANY relationship.  It could be an entire book because listening is more than just hearing the words and paying attention to someone as they speak.  I don't have time to discuss all the nuances of listening in this blog post, but here are nine ways to listen that will help you build closer relationships with friends, family and coworkers. 1. Words The first thing we need to listen for are the words.  A speaker's word choice tells us something about where they are coming from in a conversation.  Did Patty just say she despised eggplant?  That's a much stronger form of vegetable discrimination than if she had said she didn't like them. What words could Patty have used?  What does her word choice say about Patty, about eggplant, about the conditions in which she was eating them? 2. Connotation What connotation is attached to the words Patty used?  If Patty says her grandmother is senile, her grandmother's condition may be more of a clinical description than if she had said she was forgetful.  It may warrant a concerned question as to her grandmother's health. In fact, Patty may be waiting for you to care enough to ask so she can talk about her feelings she's kept bottled up. 3. Omitted Words You can tell a great deal about someone by listening to the words they use, but also by the words they don't use.  What words did Patty omit from her conversation about her grandmother?  If you listen closely (called active listening), you may have noticed that Patty described all the symptoms of Alzheimer's without ever saying the word.  It may mean that Patty is so afraid for her grandmother that she can't even bring herself to utter the word.  Sometimes a big hug is in order for people under such stress.  Clues like these can help us find what our friends need in times of great distress. 4. Tone of Voice If you noticed that Patty had a note of sarcasm in her voice when she said her grandmother was senile, you could infer that she was simply making a joke.  Understanding which comments are meant to be humorous and which ones are not, can be the difference between a close friendship and a conflict. 5. Body Language As Patty describes her grandmother's sweet nature and her feelings the last time she saw her, you may notice her body language is focused inward.  Patty may not have said anything at all that would indicate that her grandmother is ill, but you may be able to gain an understanding that Patty is in pain about something her grandmother is currently experiencing.  Simply asking how she is might give Patty the opening she longs for to discuss her pain with a good friend. 6. Gestures Similarly, gestures can give you the same kind of information.  If Patty's body isn't slumped over, perhaps she is wringing her hands or fiddling with her dress.  These may be an indication that she is stressed and in need of a good friend's shoulder. 7. Pauses Sometimes when people are upset about something, they pause in the middle of a statement due to stress, because they don't know how to say what they need or want to or because they are about to reveal something they don't want to. All of those things can give you clues into how Patty is feeling or what she might be trying (or trying NOT) to say. 8. World View Sometimes we can discern someone's view on a particular topic by the words or examples they use.  This can be a tremendous help in tailoring our message or our comfort to their needs.  For example, if Patty uses the word "institution" while discussing  where her grandmother may need to go, she may have a dim view of all locations that help the elderly cope with health issues.  On the other hand, it may be just the view she holds of this facility.  That might be important if you hope to help Patty discuss her feelings and help her decide what options she and her grandmother have. 9. Eye Contact The eyes are the windows to the soul.  You can tell a great deal about a person or situation in which someone either makes or avoids eye contact.  If Patty is avoiding eye contact with you as she is talking about her grandmother, she may be feeling afriad of what you might think of her for considering putting her grandmother in an institution.  If her brother avoids making eye contact as he is discussing grandma's jewels that are currently missing from the house, he might be trying to hide the fact that he took them. These are some of the things you need to pay attention to, listen for, as you communicate with others so you are able to discern more from your conversation.  This will allow you further understanding and insight in order that you may be of more help and support to those you are with.  As I said, how you do that can be a little complicated. If you'd like to learn more about how to be a good listener, I share these lessons in depth (and for various situations) in several of my studies including: Know Your Audience, Say What You Mean: Defending the Faith, Say What You Mean: Avoiding, Reducing and Resolving Conflicts, Say What You Mean: Overcoming Social Anxiety.  If you click on the links and scroll to the bottom of each product page, you'll find a free sample lesson you can download.   ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication, but it is her humorous approach to communication skills which has made her a highly sought-after Christian speaker and writer.  Her articles appear in homeschool publications, such as Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which also endorses her Say What You Mean curricula.  You can also find JoJo on web sites such as and  For more information on communication FUNdamentals and Christian-based communication skills for the whole family, please visit     If you liked this post, please subscribe to our RSS feed and share the link…


  • Lisa Buffaloe

    These are great points, JoJo! Thank you! I’m sharing with Fliterary. Thank you!!

  • JoJo

    Thanks so much, Lisa! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and to share it with your readers!

  • "Simply" Sue Falcone

    Thanks JoJo for sharing these ways to listen better! Sharing it with all my friends and fans. Love your writing!

  • JoJo

    Thanks, Carla.

  • Carla

    All excellent points! We all need to improve our listening skills. I adore the term “vegetable discrimination.” That’s gonna have to be incorporated into my vocabulary. hee-hee

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