The Most Important Skill No One Teaches You: Listening

Posted on June 29, 2011


Think back to when you were in school. I mean way back to elementary school. Back to the days of eating paste and macaroni sculptures.

I’ll bet, especially for people who grew up to be hosts, you were told over and over again to, “Be quiet and listen.”

But I’m almost sure you were never taught how. I don’t think I was. I surely don’t remember a day when my teacher said, “OK class, today we are going to learn how to be good listeners.”

I guess it’s possible I wasn’t listening.


Listening is, without a doubt, one of the most important skills a person can possess. Being a good listener can help us be more successful in every part of our lives. Yet no one ever teaches us how to do it.

The author of the blog “Stupid Little Man” explains most people’s general lack of listening skills this way:  

“If you ask most people what the opposite of talking is, they will say it is listening. The truth, though, is that the opposite of talking is waiting to talk.”

He says if you observe people having a conversation quite often you’ll find there isn’t much listening going on. It’s more like two people waiting to speak their mind while not really hearing what the other person is saying. 

For a host, good listening skills are doubly important. Not only can they be beneficial in your life outside the studio, they can make a huge difference in your on-air work. Consider this:

  • If you are part of a team show, being able to listen to the other cast members effectively will enable you to build on what they say and move the conversation forward.
  • If you do interviews, listening attentively to what your guests say will help you ask better follow-up questions and get better information for your audience.
  • If your show includes phone calls from listeners, I guarantee that listening to what they say will lead to more interesting content.

So, with that in mind, here are a few suggestions to help improve your listening skills:

Minimize Distractions: Try to cut down the number of things in your immediate area that will steal your attention from the speaker.

Practice Aggressive Non-Interruption: Concentrate on purposely not interrupting the person who is speaking.

Give Non-Verbal Encouragement: If you are in the same room as the speaker – not always possible for hosts – use body language and movement like head nodding and facial expressions to reinforce to the speaker that you are paying attention.

Fidget as Needed: If you realize your mind is wandering shift your body position. Moving around a little bit can help you re-focus.

Your mind wanders because you are able to think faster than a person can speak. For now, try to focus that extra brain capacity on making sure you are hearing what the other person is saying.