Listening practices and a TED Talk to help you practice
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Listening practices and a TED Talk to help you practice

June 2, 2022

There’s a notion that the human mind only can focus for seven seconds at a time before being distracted. So how do you maintain that presence and focus on the other person during a conversation?

Here are three ideas to improve your listening.


This is something we do a lot in Partnership leadership programs. We place participants in groups of three. One person shares a story, another person listens and a third person observes. After two minutes of the storyteller sharing and the listener asking questions, we take a moment to reflect.

Listeners may notice how quickly they wanted to finish the storyteller’s sentences, try to bring the focus back to their own experience or realize that they just zoned out. Observers can then add their thoughts about what they noticed.

This simple exercise is one I recommend. It can be eye-opening—or ear-opening (cue the groans).

Know your pitfalls

If you know one of your issues is that you finish people’s sentences in your head, perhaps you could make a note when it happens—even just a tally mark in your notebook. If you start noticing one of your poor listening habits recurring more frequently, you can identify patterns and work to fix it.

Reflect on times when you practiced active listening during a meaningful conversation 

Take a moment to write some reflections on what was accomplished. You might ask yourself: “What was different? What brought me into a deeper listening space? How did that benefit the relationship? How did that benefit what we were trying to accomplish together in that conversation?”

Any leader can use these practices to improve listening. And if we’re all committed to being better active listeners, the people we lead will feel seen, heard and valued.

Watch this Ted Talk with author and radio journalist Celeste Headlee for more listening practices and tips on how to have better conversations.

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