Questions That ACTUALLY Make You a Good Listener

Updated: Sep 26

Some of you may have seen my blog post on listening. The results were pretty unanimous, Asking Insightful Questions was 68% of respondents’ top characteristic of a good listener, versus Follows up with suggestions (18%), Summarizes points back to you (10%), and lastly Positive feedback and support (4%)

I thought I’d break down how this fits into the research on listening and how this might change in a virtual environment.

In a great study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, HBR article here, they looked at what leaders in a coaching training program did as listening skills and how they were perceived. Most people are competent with the basics of listening or at least understand what they are, e.g. trying to stay present, nodding and adding words of assent, like “Yes, go on.”

But for the leaders to be ranked by the people they were coaching as good listeners, the answers changed. They flagged 1. Challenging questions, 2. Uplifting for one’s self esteem, 3. Conversation flows in both directions, and 4. Making suggestions. Much like my poll, these show that good listening is not so much about the act of hearing or retaining what the speaker is saying, it’s how the speaker is affected by the listener. Particularly when you’re on the other end of a Zoom call, paying attention to how you affect someone laying out a story or problem is especially important.

Asking useful questions is tough, you have to be there both mind and body to ascertain the crux of the issue and which questions will help the speaker get to the headspace or action items they need to resolve the topic at hand. If you can’t see their body language, you have much less information to go on regarding how they are emotionally influenced by the issue at hand.

When you think about good questions to ask, sometimes you need to take a page out of a therapist’s book. I’ve collected some ideas from psychology that I think can be really useful for helping people you work with find the solutions to their issues.