Are you (really) listening? A simple exercise to gauge how good a listener you are…

At the beginning of this year, I held a workshop with 25+ people from the team at JAA, a media agency in London. 

The workshop was all about inspiring individuals to have more commercially curious conversations in 2023 – challenging them on how they might be able to better serve clients and in turn impact business growth. 

Before we got together in person, I asked the team to do a short piece of self-analysis on listening. Specifically asking themselves to honestly judge how good a listener they are. 

I hope you already realise the value of being a good listener on successful commercial conversations.

Chances are, that you probably think of yourself as a pretty good listener. And that’s because most people believe that listening requires these three things: 

– Not talking when others are speaking
– Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
– And being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

But the truth is that great listening requires much more than that. 

Research from Zenger and Folkman (as cited in a Harvard Business Review article) sets out to say that a skilled listener should not simply be to be a sponge—absorbing everything but providing little feedback – but instead be thought of as a trampoline who amplifies and supports a speaker’s thoughts by providing constructive feedback. I love this analogy.

The first step in becoming a better listener is, as with many things, an awareness of you’re current skill levels. 

If you want a starting point to gauge how good you really are at listening, then here’s the simple exercise I set out for the team at JAA. 

Two ears, one mouth – here’s how it works:

Score yourself VERY HONESTLY using the grid in the article. A key part of being curious is your ability to listen. Knowing how good (or bad) you are will help you focus on this critical skill. 

What did you score?

31–35 points = Effective Listener
21–30 points = Good Listener
14–20 points = Not-so-good
Listener 13 points or less = Huh?

Reflect on your answers and spend some time being self-observant. 

Knowing your listening strengths and weaknesses you are now able to work on your skills to become a better listener.

I’ve also included some follow up reading in case this piques your interest.

What Great Listeners Actually Do – I like this Harvard Business Review article because it is a new take on active listening.

10 Steps To Effective Listening – I loved the “try to feel what the other person is feeling” point in here. That’s a powerful idea.

The Art of Listening – International Coaching Federation – a few hundred words, all of which are dynamite. If this is what professional listeners do, it’s worth…listening to!

Have fun with this and be curious.



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If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.