Office of Culture and Experience

The Lost Art of Listening

June 29, 2016 • Coaching, OPD, Values

The original title of this blog was “Shut up and Listen” because recent experiences have reminded me that if everyone (myself included) did this a little bit more, we would reap the benefits of having more meaningful relationships in every area of our lives.

Listening is one of the simplest but most powerful ways to build relationships, earn trust, create collaborative environments, and Serve Others First (Covey, 2006; Greenleaf, 2008; Northouse, 2013). It is tied directly to some of the challenges we face here at UNTHSC around communication and building trusting relationships.

Listening can at times be a challenge. Many of us have been socialized to tie our individual value and contributions to what we say because we have historically received affirmation based on things we have verbalized. I personally struggle with listening because I am a verbal processor, and I regularly need to ‘talk out’ ideas.

We all need reminders to focus on what is truly important in our relationships with others, and my crucible moment around listening came as a result of a professional development workshop I attended. The speaker asked us each to identify one relationship we wanted to improve and ask that person one simple question, “What is one thing I can start doing immediately to improve our relationship?”   I chose to approach my mother with this question. Her response was simple- “Sometimes I wish you would ask me about my day before you tell me about yours.” This statement hit me in the gut. I had not realized that I had formed a very selfish habit of making every phone call about me. That experience has shaped how I view and interact with others. The first step to improving my relationships was to listen first. Then, I needed to genuinely seek to understand rather than simply waiting for my turn to talk.

Five things you can do to improve your listening skills:

  • Limit distractions– Quiet the voice in your head and be present in the conversation
  • Listen first– Genuinely seek to understand, not to be understood.
  • Listen for meaning not solutions– Seek first to understand the other person’s perspective, then determine if they need a coach, mentor, advisor, or just a listening ear
  • Paraphrase– Restate what you think was said and confirm with the person speaking what you heard
  • Don’t assume– Find out what matters most to the individual, not what you think is important to them. Use open-ended questions instead of leading questions to discover what is significant.

Challenge– Identify opportunities to listen when you would typically speak, try to increase the number of times you simply listen throughout the week.

Coaching Corner: International Coach Federation Core Competency #5- Active Listening

  • Active Listening– listening to what is said and not said, listening without agenda, and distinguishing between tone and body language.

-Jessie Johnson



Covey, S.M.R. and Merrill, R.R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. New York, NY: Free Press.

Greenleaf, R.K. (2008). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

International Coach Federation. (N.D.). Core Competencies. Retrieved from

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage publications.