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Be a Better Listener - For Your Students and Yourself!

Working in the fast-paced environments that are admissions and school counseling sometimes it can be hard to remember to slow down and take time to listen. To listen to our colleagues, our superiors, our students, and, frankly, ourselves. We can also probably all recall times where a problem may have been alleviated, if we would have simply taken the time to listen.

So what can we do to make ourselves better listeners and, therefore, hopefully improve our work performance and show others that we care about them? Below are a few suggestions.

1)      Show you are listening. We all know how impacted nonverbal communication can be. Don’t be doing other things when someone is talking to you. Focus on what they are saying.

2)      Don’t talk. Sometimes the solution or the answer to a question may be evident to you long before someone is done explaining the situation. Be patient. Wait for a natural break in the conversation and don’t cut them off. Good listening involves making yourself be silent and showing them that someone cares enough to listen.

3)       Ask for clarification. When the conversation may meander, develop gentle interrogation skills. Repeat what you believe they said or mean and get affirmation.

4)      Follow-up. You can go through the steps to appear to be an excellent listen, but proving you actually did listen can be a whole other thing. After a conversation, show that you care enough to follow-up on the exchange. This does not necessarily need you need to “give in” if someone wants something in particular, but what it does mean is that you again acknowledge and thank the person for the discussion. Even if that is simply saying, “Thank you for the conversation. I am looking into what we can do here.”

5)      Do not be afraid to be the one to prompt a conversation so that they have the opportunity to listen when they may not feel heard. This can come in many forms that doesn’t need to take extra time:

  1. Consider saving 5-10 minutes at the end of an already scheduled meeting to open the floor for a discussion.
  2. If you have a group of students you work with or oversee, schedule a time for them to give feedback. You can prompt them with a few questions to think about ahead of time, or simply just tell them you want to check-in to see how things are going.
  3. Put a reoccurring 30-minute “monthly check-in” on the calendar with a colleague
  4. If you see someone in the break room, just ask them “how are you doing?” or “what’s been going on and is there any way I can help?”

Listening skills can be elusive when you are running in so many different directions, but in our business they are critical to success. The greatest threat to becoming a good listener is the assumption that you already are. Like all skills, they take time to develop and master. 


(Adapted from “Admin 101: How to Become a Better Listener” published in The Chronical of Higher Education on April 14, 2019 by David D. Perlmutter)

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