Top tips to be an effective listener

February 23, 2014 by Mark Maclaine
Image Listening is something we all do as part of everyday life, right? It’s part of how we communicate. But the truth is that most of us don’t listen properly. We often hear what we want to hear. Listening is an essential skill for any tutor, teacher or parent: it helps you develop a relationship with your child or student and encourages them to open up to you. Whenever I’ve asked students about this, many say that their favourite adults are those that actually listen to them. So here are my top tips on how to be an effective listener:

You must be physically and mentally prepared to tune in. Turn off the mind chatter and concentrate fully. You’d be surprised at how much more you take in - and conversation can be a lot more interesting.

Show your interest. You need to look like you’re listening. Engage your eyes, smile, nod and make your posture open and inviting. This will encourage them, to speak to you more. This is also useful advice to students who say their teachers often accuse them of not focusing in class.

red background with the words "listening us an act of love."

Avoid interrupting. Don’t try to redirect the conversation to your own concerns. Listening is not waiting for your turn to talk or preparing what you would like to say next. The speaker will know that your mind is elsewhere, even if only a subconscious level.

Don’t be judgemental. In order to understand someone fully you need to set aside any previous criticisms, judgements or opinions.

Encourage your student/child with active prompts such as ‘yes’, ‘mmm’, ‘aha’, or repeating keywords back to them. You don’t need to do this all the time: using prompts every so often confirms to the speaker that you really are listening.


Watch your student/child’s body language. When people speak quickly it’s likely they’re excited and interested in the topic. If they have slumped shoulders with their chin to the ground, perhaps they are uspet or lack self-esteem. Folded arms can signal defensiveness against your response - or sometimes just that they’re cold! Be aware of this body language and sensitive to it when listening and responding.

Don’t imprint your own set of life experiences onto what your student or child has said. You might add your own experience to the conversation but make sure you are also taking the time to understand their viewpoint, given their own unique life experience.

Don’t imprint your own opinions onto your student or child. This can often happen by asking closed questions, like “do you mean…?”. Instead try to word your questions in an open format, such as:

"When you said x, what did you mean?"

"Can you give me an example of what you meant by x"

"Tell me more about your feelings on this…"

These questions you can help to clarify that you have fully understand what your student or child is trying to communicate.

If you have any stories which show how listening has made a difference then please share them in the comments box below.

Image from CC-by 
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