The Ultimate Guide to Active Listening

I recently watched an interview with Jay Abraham, known as the “9 Billion Dollar Man” for adding that much attributable cash to his clients’ bottom line. He said that his #1 skill was his incredible curiosity. It allowed him to learn so much from people.

It made him interesting and fascinating to others because he was interested and fascinated by them. Coincidentally, I watched an interview of the billionaire John Paul DeJoria shortly after and he said his #1 strength was being able to listen to people without trying to respond, though it took some time for him to get good at this.

It reminded me of another billionaire, Richard Branson, emphasizing the subtle importance of active listening in his books.

When I hear communication advice from the world’s best interviewers, dating coaches, speakers, leaders, and communicators, they emphasize how being interested is the key to appear interesting and how active listening is key .

Seems simple, right? Most of us already listen well, right? Wrong.

Most of us listen to speak. This means we’re not listening when someone’s speaking. We’re impatiently waiting for them to shut up so we can speak, which usually means we’re ignoring what they’re saying.

The Purpose of Listening

There are many purposes of listening:

  • to solve problems
  • to let someone vent their emotions
  • to improve yourself
  • to learn something
  • to remind yourself of something (to be humble, stay focused, etc.)
  • to show that someone else matters
  • to understand and empathesize
  • to clarify a message
  • to show others they matter

Despite that, they all start with understanding someone else’s message. If you tune out, you’re not listening. You might as well not even be there.

The Dangers of Mistaking One Purpose for the Other

Most men default to listening to problem solve. Naturally, as men, we want to solve problems. When we hear someone complaining about a problem, we immediately give them a solution.

Unfortunately, women often talk about their problems with the purpose of venting their frustrations and other emotions, not to get their problem solved. In fact, trying to solve their problems backfires because your logical brain gets into an argument with them, which negatively affects the relationship, on why they’re still complaining when you have given valid solutions. By being aware of their main purpose (to vent, not to get their problems solved), you can let them talk and relate, thus making them feel better and showing you are more attuned with the feminine.

What Is Active Listening?

As the name implies, this is a form of listening that requires active effort. This effort can come in multiple forms, all of which improve your chances of actually taking in someone’s message to understand and retain. These forms include concentrating, repeating the message back, and showing verbal and visual signs you’re listening. You can show you’re listening by:

  • Nodding
  • Smiling
  • Don’t judge
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Show open body language that shows you’re not distracted
  • Showing vocal signs you’re listening (“Uh-uh,” “Yes,” or “Mmm-hmm”)
  • Mirroring their facial expressions, tone, and body language to show empathy towards their emotions
  • Quickly responding to points made while they talk by clarifying, reflecting, questioning, or summarizing

The successful businessman and motivational speaker Brian Tracy has a stellar tip for improving your listening skills:
If you want to listen better, take at least 2 to 4 seconds to pause before replying.

Many of us are too quick to reply. We are more concerned with speaking than to understand, so much so that we’re thinking of what to say next rather than being present when someone else is talking. Take a long pause before you say anything to let what they say sink in.

I can’t under-emphasize the power of repeating or summarizing what they say to make sure you understand and to show you’ve been actively listening. After they say something, test it out. The more someone has been ignored, the more they’ll appreciate someone who listens.

You have 2 ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. -Anonymous

It’s simple but effective; try to be quieter and listen for at least twice as much as you talk. As an introvert, this comes easier as it’s usually more comfortable for you to do nothing than to talk. Leverage that. If it’s better, why not do that more? Just remember, that this isn’t a pass for you to zone out. Real listening requires effort as well.

Especially if you are younger, you should be absorbing knowledge more than you are spouting it out. You have more to learn from experts with decades of practice than you are to teach. More frequently, young people talk more than they should because they like to and they’re not as aware of the importance of listening. Even Richard Branson, who has more achievements than most people alive, has revealed that people are surprised how much he stays quiet to listen and take notes when they meet him; his outgoing media persona is just one part of him — even he’s still learning.

Don’t judge. Give everyone at least two minutes to finish what their point before you interrupt. When people see signs of judgment, they don’t feel good. They don’t want to be around you, much less reveal how they really feel. Your chances of effective communication and finding out the truth will have greatly diminished.

The person who takes one piece of this advice and uses it for practice is better than the guy who simply reads hundreds of facts or advice on the internet and never does anything with it. Test it out. Practice getting better.

You see this in your personal and social life too. The best interviewers, like Ellen, aren’t in their head. They go with the flow of the conversation.

When you’re on a date, don’t be the guy who is stuck in his head thinking about what to say next. She can sense it, which turns her off. 

LISTEN to what she’s telling you and go with it. Base your statements and questions around what she says.

It’s more spontaneous and difficult because you can’t predict it sometimes. It’s completely random! But it’s more rewarding and fruitful. It leads to spontaneity and interesting conversation.

Be OK with things not being perfect. Avoid perfectionism.

In business, this leads to understanding struggles and pains of coworkers, employees, managers, and customers by genuinely asking to learn rather than asking to check a box or to say what you want to say. This mindset shit allows you to solve problems and improve lives, which inevitably trickles back to improving your own life. What’s your experience been with active listening? Have you been snubbed yourself by someone who pretended to listen to you and have you ever been the snubber?

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.


  1. Thank you Will,
    great spiel on Active Listening. really enjoyed the content. You are doing a wonderful job writing and sharing all the information.

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