To Be A Good Listener: Focus

Communication is a two way street. Certainly you want to be able to speak clearly and cogently and have people appreciate what you have to say. But half of communication is the ability to listen as well. Really hearing what the speaker has to say is critical to successful communication, not only for the speaker but also for the listener.

What does it take to be a good listener?

In a word, focus. Your full attention needs to be on the person speaking, not elsewhere.

If you are face-to-face with a person, it’s important to look the person in the eye. By looking the speaker in the eye, you are letting him know that you are focused on him, and what he has to say. Of course, looking a person in the eye does not mean engaging in a long staring contest to see who breaks off first. But it does mean showing where your attention is through your eyes.


Your body language matters, too. When you slouch back in your chair and cross your arms, you convey an image of “not interested,” if not down right hostility toward the speaker. Instead, sit up, lean forward, let your arms rest comfortably on the table in front of you or in your lap. If standing, face him with an open, welcoming posture.

Show you are paying attention. A slight nod of your head indicates you heard what the person said. You can utter an occasional “I see” or make a quick comment indicating you processed and understood what the person said. A more direct way to indicate you are listening is to ask questions occasionally or to repeat a point the speaker has made to confirm that you really did understand what he was saying.

If you are conversing on a phone, the other person can tell if you are listening or if you are distracted, even if they can’t see you. You may think the other person won’t know if you are quickly scanning your emails, responding to a text or looking at other work while you are talking with him, but the reality is the caller will hear the distractedness in your voice if not the clicking of the keys on your keyboard or the rustling of papers. Just as in a face-to-face conversation, asking questions, repeating points, and making utterances of agreement or even disagreement demonstrate that your focus is on the caller.


One final point: Avoid eating when on a phone call. Not only are you distracted by dealing with your food, even if you think your are being quiet, the noise of your chewing and swallowing will be unpleasant for the person on the other end of the call.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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