The Listener’s Toolbox

14.02.2019 |

Episode #2 of the course Mastering your conversations by Jordan Thibodeau


“There is only one rule for being a good talker—learn to listen.” —Christopher Morley

Welcome back!

In the next few lessons, we are going to learn how to become a better listener. This lesson talks about the power of the Listener’s Toolbox and how it makes you a more engaged conversationalist.


Listener’s Toolbox

We have an inner need to be heard. If you help others quench their thirst to be heard by validating their thoughts, they will feel better about themselves and want to learn more about you. If you don’t listen properly, you will never connect with the person because you won’t have a complete understanding of what’s important to that person. Without the validation of being understood, the person won’t be able to listen to you because they are too concerned about their own feelings. That said, do not pretend to care. If you pretend to care about what people have to say, they will see through it. I use the following six tools from the Listener’s Toolbox to make sure I learn as much as possible from the conversation:

Focus on them: Keep the conversation about the other person. It’s very easy to hijack the conversation and start speaking about yourself. Your goal is to learn about their goals and what’s important to them.

Questions to think about:

• What are they trying to accomplish?

• What motivates them to achieve certain goals?

• What are they struggling with?

• What can you do to help them achieve their goals?

• Have you repeated back to them what they have said to you?

• What can you learn from this conversation?

• What can you learn from them in the future?

Get inside their head: In order to connect with people, you have to understand where they are coming from. People provide you with these tells when they indicate what they are trying to achieve in life. If you find them complaining about a certain thing, usually the reverse of that thing is what they value. For example, if the person complains about someone else being talkative, odds are that person values peace and quiet.

Questions to think about:

• What does this person value?

• How do they see the world?

• How does their background influence their thought patterns?

• What goals are they working toward in their personal and professional life?

Ask open-ended questions: Instead of “yes” or “no” questions that lead people in a certain direction, such as, “Did you have a good or bad day at work?”, try asking open-ended questions that provide people with the opportunity to answer the question freely, such as, “How was your day at work?” Even if you don’t know the person at all, you can always ask them, “What is your story? How did you get here?”

Open-ended questions:

• How was your day at work?

• Have you read any good books lately?

• What’s going well in your life right now?

Assume you don’t have the full story: If you find yourself finishing the speaker’s thoughts, stop. Remind yourself that you don’t have the full story and that the speaker will have a different point of view on the world’s events. By stopping yourself from assuming you know what they are going to say, you will listen more and develop a more complete understanding of the issue at hand.

Questions to think about:

• What assumptions am I making about this person?

• This person has unique knowledge: How do I learn from them?

• How do I know for certain that I have this person figured out?

• If I’m completely missing what this person is about, what are alternative explanations? How else might I explain their story? What question could I ask them to figure out which version is correct (in their view)?

Listen like a detective: Imagine another person depended on you to share the information about what you learned from the conversation. What would you share with them?

Questions to think about:

• What did I learn from this conversation?

• Why is this conversation important?

• Do you have gaps in your understanding of the conversation? If so, ask more questions.

• If you were to share this conversation with someone else, how would you summarize it?

If you think you have a solid grasp of the conversation so far, try summarizing it back to the person and see if they agree. Ideally, your summary is much shorter than their version but relates the core idea so well, they are surprised. It’s rare when someone understands you that completely! If you do a great job, they will appreciate it.

Embrace the silence: At times, there will be a lull in the conversation. That’s fine; if you don’t have anything to follow up with, relax. As the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” These pauses give the speaker time to complete their thoughts or ask you about yourself.


But This Isn’t a Deposition

Don’t bombard the person with a million questions. It’s similar to the back-and-forth action of a tennis match. Once you ask your question, let the person answer fully. Don’t try to berate them with multiple questions (“tennis balls”), or they will quit the game. You need to let the person finish their thoughts, and then when they present you with the opportunity, you can jump in with thoughts of your own.


What If You Don’t Have Time to Listen?

If you can’t focus on a conversation, let the person know up front. You can say, “Hey, I really want to talk to you, but right now, I have a few fires I’m fighting. Would it be possible to talk later? What you have to say is really important and I want to give it my undivided attention.”


To Do:

1. Take a few minutes to think of one tool you’ll use from the Listener’s Toolbox for your next conversation.

2. After your conversation, reflect on how the tool worked to improve the conversation.

3. For your next conversation, pick a different tool and see how it works for you.

Tomorrow, we will learn how to identify nonverbal forms of communication.

Jordan Thibodeau

Conversation Mentor


Recommend book

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston


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