When we have a discussion with someone, one of the things we do (hopefully) is to listen to them. Our listening skills are important in determining the success of the conversation.

It doesn’t matter what we are talking about. It could be a quick discussion with a relative. Or a chat with a friend with a problem. Or a first conversation with someone we’ve not met before at a party or networking event. Or a formal 1-2-1 meeting with someone we manage.

In each case, both people are doing a number of things. These including speaking, hopefully not at the same time(!) and listening. But how much do we focus on speaking and how much on listening? The saying “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epictetus.

Why should we put more effort into listening rather than speaking? What are the benefits?

  1. Listening to someone helps them to feel valued. They feel that what they have to say matters. Listening properly means focusing on what they are saying and not ‘pretending to listen’. We can show them we are really listening by asking follow up questions for clarification.
  2. We discover what is going on in their world. We find out things we didn’t know. Much of this may impact on what we do and how we think. For example, if we talk to someone at a networking event, we may find out what is happening in their organisation or that they know someone we have been trying to meet.
  3. It may save us time. When we listen to someone in our team we may realise that they possess skills we were unaware of and that these could be useful in a new project.
  4. It helps people to find their own solutions.


What can we do to help us to get these benefits of listening?

  1. Asking open-ended questions* gives the other person an opportunity to provide a lengthy answer and lots of opportunity to listen. Examples of these questions might include ‘Can you tell me a bit more about that?’ or ‘What are your plans for the next stage of this?’.  *Open ended questions are the opposite of closed questions. Closed questions require only a yes/no answer or a very short answer.
  2. Focusing on the person we are listening to. This includes not doing something else at the same time or thinking about something else at the same time. Sitting down with them in a quiet room or going for a walk with them in a quiet space are examples (provided you don’t get distracted while walking!).
  3. Paying attention to what is being ‘said’ apart from the words. This includes their tone of voice, or whether they are smiling or appearing upset. Do they ‘light up’ when talking about a specific topic? This is all additional information you can combine with the words spoken to get insight about how they feel about the subject.
  4. Giving positive feedback to the individual. This might include congratulating them on what they have managed to do so far and helping them to appreciate that what they plan to do next is achievable.


During a 35 year career in higher education, Jenny Ames led a productive research group. She held the title of Professor at 6 universities, graduated ~25 PhD students and mentored ~25 contract researchers. She was also a senior manager for 8 years.

Since 2017 Jenny has been Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. Her coaching practice focuses on people in career transition. They may be wondering what to do next or they may have recently moved sector, organisation or job role. Jenny Holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice from Oxford Brookes University. Other services provided by Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd include:

* Working with you to develop and implement your organisation’s strategy in research/knowledge generation, knowledge exchange, including REF preparations.

*Identifying potential partners and facilitating collaborations for a specific area of your business.




Author Jenny Ames

Working with Universities, Businesses and their Stakeholders to benefit Society.

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