Have you ever shut your eyes and listened attentively to the sounds around you? Try it. Do you hear birds chirping? Traffic honking? People talking in the distance? An airplane flying overhead?

You’ll be surprised to hear many sounds you generally tune out. All it takes is listening attentively.

Hearing is a natural process in which the ear absorbs sound. However, humans tend to tune out many sounds they hear. Sometimes this even includes conversations. Imagine you’re sitting in a crowded bus. The passenger next to you is speaking loudly on the phone. After a while, you focus on something else and tune out the loud conversation.

Despite physically overhearing the entire conversation, you don’t remember any of it when you got off the bus. This is because you were simply hearing and not actively listening.

So what are the principles of effective listening? Read on.

The Principles Of Listening

  1. Stop talking when someone else is speaking 

This seems obvious, but it is one of the most overlooked principles of effective listening. When someone is speaking, listen attentively. Focus on their message without distractions so you can respond effectively. When the other person has finished talking, you may share your views or clarify points to ensure that you have interpreted their message correctly.

Some people become impatient when listening to another person talk. They want to interrupt the speaker and get their point in. But remember, the role of a listener is to listen, not talk.

  1. Put the speaker at ease

Some famous talk show hosts put their guests at ease immediately. Their celebrity guests feel so comfortable that they relax and open up. Even ordinary people who have never been on television before feel comfortable in their presence. This shows the importance of making the speaker feel comfortable enough to share what is on their mind.

Whether you are having a serious discussion with a friend or attending a business meeting, encourage the speaker to continue by nodding and using other verbal and nonverbal gestures. This will put the speaker at ease and greatly enhance the quality of the conversation.

  1. Get rid of distractions

One of the key listening principles is focusing on the speaker and what is being spoken. A distracted listener or audience is discourages the speaker. Think of the time when it was your turn to make a presentation at college or in your office. If you noticed your peers checking their phone or staring out the window as you were speaking, how would that have made you feel? Discouraged and disrespected?

According to the principles of effective listening, a distracted listener reduces the effectiveness of the communication in two ways. First, a distracted listener makes the speaker feel that you are disinterested or bored by their message. A discouraged speaker will share less and communicate less effectively. Second, being distracted also disrupts the listening process and reduces the listener’s understanding of what is being said.

  1. Empathize with the speaker

Empathy is among the essential principles of good listening. It’s not only about listening with complete focus. When you have empathy towards the speaker, you don’t judge what they are saying. You respect their perspectives and experiences even if they may be different from yours. Empathy is especially important when the speaker is in a position of vulnerability. Imagine you are at a company meeting called to discuss the low earnings of the quarter. The senior management is explaining the mistakes made on multiple fronts that led to the disastrous quarter for the company. As a listener, you should empathize. Similarly, if a close friend’s parent is very ill and your friend is confiding their fear and worry in you, it is important to listen with empathy.

You can exhibit empathy by listening carefully, using the right nonverbal cues to express your understanding, and not interrupting the speaker. When you do respond, remember that it’s not only about what you say. It is also about how you say it.

  1. Listen for ideas and not just words

Masterful speakers know how to use words that align with their intent. However, you may find yourself listening to someone whose choice of words does not convey their intention well. There could be several reasons for this. Perhaps the speaker is speaking in a language that they are not well versed in. Perhaps they are nervous. Maybe they are explaining something complex and are unable to find the right words to communicate their point.

One of the key listening principles is that words are simply a vehicle for a larger thought or idea. So the next time someone is speaking, don’t listen only to their words. Try to understand the deeper meaning behind what the speaker is saying. This way you will not overlook their idea and will have a more meaningful interaction.

These are a few of the major principles of effective listening. However, the list goes on when it comes to principles of listening skills. Harappa Education’s Listening Actively course has a framework for effective listening called the ABC Framework of Active Listening.  This framework talks about the Affective, Behavioral, and Cognitive components of listening. Practice improving your listening skills and you will be amazed at the wonderful, insightful exchanges you have!


Explore topics such as Active Listening, How to Improve Listening Skills, Qualities of a Good Listener, Listening Process and Listening Barriers from our Harappa Diaries blog section to ace your soft skills.

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