Activity: Improving Careful Listening

Perhaps the most important feature of effective communication in teams is careful listening. Careful listening helps team members exchange observations, insights, and ideas that help students. This activity will help you improve your skills as a careful listener.


The web offers many “listening skills” quizzes. All these quizzes, though, just ask you to describe your behavior. How “well” you do depends on how many of the “good” behaviors you claim to practice, and how few of the bad ones. And it’s pretty easy, on these quizzes, to see which behaviors are good and which are bad. So it’s very easy to make yourself look good on paper!

It’s a lot harder to be honest—to admit to using the “bad” behaviors sometimes and to admit that you don’t practice the good ones as much as you might. (The “links for more information” document in this unit points to some of the quizzes.)


Here are two lists: the first has 5 “good” listening behaviors and the second has 5 “bad” listening behaviors.

Step 1. Read the lists carefully.


  1. I wait for people to say what they are saying before I respond.
  2. When people speak with me, I make eye contact.
  3. In discussions, I pay attention to people’s body language.
  4. When someone finishes talking with me, I repeat what I thought were the main points.
  5. If I’m unsure what someone means, I ask that person to explain.


  1. If someone pauses before he or she is finished speaking, I jump in with my own thoughts
  2. When I get a phone call during a serious discussion, I answer the call.
  3. I’m impatient when I think people take too long to make their points.
  4. Discussions are boring unless I get to talk a lot.
  5. When people are talking, I let them know right away if I don’t like what I hear.

Step 2. Now re-read the lists and try to recognize your own everyday, real behavior. First, you’ll probably get a good idea of several things you need to work on. Second, you’ll get a good idea of why careful listening is difficult for most people.

You’re not alone in this: we all have problems communicating. Using language to communicate well is like that. It’s the hard work required of humans because we can talk and also because we can learn to listen carefully.

Step 3. Write up a plan to help you improve a little bit. For example,

  • If you are an impatient listener, for example, the plan might be: “I will wait until I’m sure someone has completed what she has to say before adding my own thoughts.”
  • If your mind wanders when others talk, the plan might be: “I will concentrate better on what others say because that’s the only way I can find out what concerns them.”


The difficulty that people have in listening to one another is a major barrier to creating an effective team. It’s that simple: and it’s that difficult. These simple plans will help you make your team better—over time. If you improve one thing, you’ll be able to improve more and also improve more quickly. One success paves the way for another.