3 Rare Things The Best Listeners In The World Do

Listening is a skill that will set you apart.

woman at dinner with friends listening to them talk MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

The how-to for listening looks something like this:

  • Look into their eyes.
  • Nod your head.
  • Smile.
  • Say, "Mmm-hmm."

And I like to believe that this is not the 'how to' of listening. This is the 'how to' of pretending to listen. If you’re actually listening, all of this happens by itself.

These tips will take you to the next level as a listener.

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Every influential person ever has given this advice:

"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say."Bryant McGill

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."Stephen Covey


"We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less."Diogenes

It is the most common advice ever. And yet, for some reason, it’s also the most ignored advice.

Because people don’t listen, do they? Why not? What’s the deal?

It’s because people would rather talk about themselves than spend the energy it takes to shut up. Listening is not easy. It’s one of the most challenging things to do in the world. It requires you to keep your ego aside.

And paradoxically, people often believe that they are good listeners. When they are not. These results were found by a study conducted by yours truly. I know. The sample size was minimal, and the parameters weren’t that strict. But you know I’m right about this.


I’m obsessed with listening. I think of it as a skill that sets me apart. Because not many people take this advice seriously. Listening helps build better relationships. Most people struggle with building meaningful relationships because they’re not good at listening.

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Here are 3 rare things that best listeners in the world do:

1. They protect people from being cut off

Of course, the first step in this direction would be not to be the person who cuts people off in the first place. Nail that down and then focus on this advice.

Within a group dynamic, there are bound to be some instances when someone gets cut off. Because everyone wants to share their stories, and if the moment is gone, that silenced story might never see the light.


And in those moments your job would be to pull the story out of that person. Of course, you’d let the other person finish their story first. There’s no nobility in cutting someone off to protect someone else from being cut off.

A simple — "John, you were saying something?" should work just fine.

2. They know when to say 'I don't know'

I genuinely believe "I know" or "I already do this" is the favorite statement of so many people. It serves our ego better. But it’s not the best if you want to start having more in-depth conversations with people.

If someone has some news or advice to share with us, we jump in with our "I know(s)" the second it sounds familiar. This habit has two downsides.


A. Maybe the person would then go on to add something which you didn’t know. You might have just cost yourself some useful information.

B. When someone shares something with you, a feeling of satisfaction ensues for them. And when you cut them off with your timely "I know", you steal from them the joy of that satisfaction.

So what I’m proposing is, even if you do know something, pretend that you don’t.

For instance, do you know what’s time blocking? I practice that. And if my friend, Yash, calls me up and shares this fantastic new productivity hack he’s discovered, I won’t kill his excitement with my egoistic — "I know. I use it already." No. I’d say — "Wow. That sounds good. I’ll try that. Thanks, buddy!"


I’ll let him have the moment and not use it as an opportunity to show off how knowledgeable I am. People love to say "I know". But you should fall in love with saying "I don’t know."

Lying isn’t a sin always. At times, it can be a virtue also.

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3. They ask people to share their life stories

I’ve heard the stories of my father’s struggles a thousand times. And yet, ever so often, he’d share them with me like I’m hearing it for the first time.

And while he’s sharing those, there’s a twinkle in his eyes and a broad smile on his lips. He loves talking about how he overcame those and got to where he is today.


And if I interrupt him with, "You’ve told me this already," I’d steal him from that joy. So naturally, I’ve trained myself not to do that. Instead, I ask him questions to encourage him to elaborate even if I know all the answers already.

  • Why did you do that?
  • How did you feel at that moment?
  • What would you have done if that hadn’t happened?

Notice that these are all open-ended questions. You should never ask yes or no questions like: "You must have been so scared, right?"

No. Let them tell how they felt. Don’t do it for them.


Everyone loves to talk about their life stories. Particularly the ones where they’ve emerged victorious. Extract those stories from people. You’ll build much deeper connections with people.

One thing to keep in mind is to not jump in with an "I know how you felt." Or an "I also had a similar experience." You don’t have to equate your experiences with them. They’re never the same. As Celeste Headlee in her TED talk says: "All experiences are individual."

Listening is the most common yet the most ignored advice ever. To become the best listener you know, follow these tips:

Protect people from being cut off: In a group dynamic, it’s obvious that someone might get cut off at times. Your job at that time is to be the hero and save that silenced story from never coming out.


Be the "I don’t know" guy/gal: Learn to say I don’t know as often as you can. This will help you learn more things and also help people feel better after sharing stuff with you. It’s a win-win.

Ask people to share their life stories: People love sharing their stories. And you should aim to be the person who extracts the maximum number of stories out of people.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.