Books about listening: How to listen better at work

Nicole Lowenbraun

Written by

Nicole Lowenbraun

When clients come to me for public speaking coaching, they usually know why. I often start our first session with a simple but broad question, “What brought you here today?” The answers typically come freely and quickly.

I hear things like:

  • “I want to work on my fear of speaking in front of large audiences.”
  • “I know I say ‘um’ and ‘uh’ too much, and I want to stop that.”
  • “I’ve been told I need to connect with my audience more when I present virtually.”

Most people are aware of the things that stand in the way of becoming an engaging and charismatic speaker, either because they’ve been given feedback from others or because they feel it themselves and know it to be true.

But when it comes to the other side of communication — the listening side — people are rarely aware of their listening prowess (or lack thereof). It’s important that we build this awareness because we spend 55% of our workday listening. Managers spend even more time listening —about 63% of their workday.

With so much of our day focused on this communication power skill, most people assume they’re a good listener. At most, listeners admit that sometimes their listening skills are not up to par because of their distracting work environment. They’re constantly getting notifications during meetings, making it hard to focus. Or they work from home and have a hard time listening when their partner or children are around.

These are valid concerns. Distractions certainly get in the way of effective listening. But let’s suppose for a moment that all distractions were eliminated. Let’s say, as a listener, you were free and clear of background noise and could avoid multitasking. Would you be able to listen better then? Perhaps. But also consider this:



How to listen better at work: Focus your Listening L.E.N.S.™

But in the world of books about listening, while there are plenty of resources, my co-author and I still felt something was missing for today’s workforce.

That’s why Duarte’s newest listening book and our new Adaptive Listening™ methodology includes a critical key component for how to listen better to colleagues, bosses, direct reports, and customers. We call it your Listening L.E.N.S.™

L.E.N.S. is an acronym that stands for: Listener, Environment, News, and Speaker.

Just like a filter on a camera lens can alter the way a photograph looks, your Listening L.E.N.S. can influence the way you process and respond to the information you’re hearing. These influences can create an ideal listening situation for you and the person speaking to you, or they can create barriers that inhibit you from being an effective listener.


Want to listen better? Check your Listening L.E.N.S.

Taken from inside our listening book, we’ve created a simple formula you can use to take inventory on the things standing in your way of better listening at work. Just check your Listening L.E.N.S. by analyzing each component. Because any one of them (or all of them) can cause you to dial in or tune out while you’re listening, checking your L.E.N.S. before you walk into your next meeting can help you listen better.

1. Listener

The “L” in L.E.N.S. stands for “Listener.” In other words you. Whether intentional or not, the mood you bring into a listening situation can impact your ability to focus on the person speaking.

So, before you walk into your next listening interaction, check in with yourself on your state of mind. For example, how’s your mood today? Were you up all night with a sick kiddo, making your morning meetings difficult because you’re exhausted and overwhelmed? That might understandably cause an unfocused L.E.N.S. and prevent you from being a better listener. Did you complete a midday workout and now your head is clear and your energy spritely? That sounds like a recipe for a more focused L.E.N.S.

The point with this component is to complete a self-discovery. Ask yourself, “What’s going on for me in this moment that might stop me from being an effective listener?” When you’re preoccupied with your own personal current reality, it’s difficult to give another person what they need and to become a better listener.

2. Environment

The “E” in L.E.N.S. stands for “Environment.” In other words, the conditions surrounding your listening, including the setting. It seems everyone has an opinion these days about the best working environment for their team and organization. Many argue that being in the office with colleagues improves collaboration and efficiency. Others appreciate the flexibility that remote work provides. Some believe that a hybrid combination of the two is best. Unfortunately, you might not have control over these policies, regardless of your preferences.

What you can do, however, is check the environment component of your Listening L.E.N.S. no matter what your listening environment looks like. Build more awareness about which setting makes you a better listener and which settings are harder for you.

Some people display better listening skills when they’re communicating in-person because they can fully see the facial expressions and body language of the person speaking. It’s easier for them to concentrate when the speaker is right in front of them. Since that’s not always possible these days, many are forced to listen remotely, and that can be challenging.

Learning how to listen better means you’re aware of the environments that create better listening situations for you, and you proactively request that your interactions take place in those environments. When you don’t have control over your environment, simply recognizing and acknowledging that fact might make it easier for you to be a better listener in challenging environments.


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3. News

The “N” in L.E.N.S. stands for “News.” In other words, the information you’re hearing. Listeners tend to be more focused and listen better when the news they’re receiving is relevant to them. Many people assume that if the information doesn’t apply to them, they can tune out, especially if they’re busy leaders.

I get it. You’re slammed and preoccupied! If the news you’re receiving doesn’t seem important to you, your role, or your team, why should you listen? But if you want to know how to listen better, one way is to recognize that empathy is a huge part of listening. Even if the person speaking is sharing news that seems irrelevant, it’s empathetic to give them your time and energy to the best of your ability because that’s what they need in that moment. It’s not enough to only listen to information that will directly impact you. Plus, let’s face it, if you tune out, you might miss something that is relevant to you.

To be a better listener at work, ask yourself, “Am I tuning out because I don’t think this news is relevant to me?” If the answer is yes, remind yourself that being empathetic to the person speaking is the goal. That reminder might just help you refocus your L.E.N.S.

4. Speaker

The “S” in L.E.N.S. stands for “Speaker.” Or, more specifically, the way you feel about the person speaking. There are several things to consider with this component, including the role of the speaker in relation to yours.

You might listen to a senior leader differently than you listen to a peer or a direct report. Perhaps because you feel the stakes are higher when listening to a senior leader, your L.E.N.S. is more focused. Or, perhaps communicating with senior leaders make you feel nervous, so when a C-suite executive is speaking to you, your L.E.N.S. is unfocused.

Similarly, you might listen differently to a customer or client than you do your internal colleagues. Some listeners might be unfocused with customers or clients that have buying power. There’s a lot at stake and sometimes those people can be intimidating to communicate with, so the Listening L.E.N.S. can become unclear. Some people listen better when the speaker is more familiar and on the same role or level. It can be easier to maintain a focused L.E.N.S. with people who are familiar.

When it comes to the Speaker component of your L.E.N.S., make sure you’re aware of how you listen differently depending on who the speaker is and what their relationship and role are compared to yours.


Books about listening can help you becoming a better listener

You have the opportunity to hone your listening skills if you analyze your Listening L.E.N.S. before you enter your next interaction. Ask yourself, “What might stop me from being a speaker-focused listener in this engagement?” Take inventory of each component. The more aware you become of the barriers that prevent you from listening better, the more empathetic you’ll be to the person speaking.

Of course, being aware of your Listening L.E.N.S. is only the first step to better listening at work. Once you understand how each component can cause focused or unfocused listening, you can then make adjustments to help you be a better listener.

While there are a good amount of listening books out there, I am biased to our listening skills book: Adaptive Listening. To learn more about your Listening L.E.N.S. and how to listen better, preorder the Adaptive Listening book!


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About the authors

Nicole Lowenbraun, M.S., CCC-SLP
Nicole is a communication nerd who uses her unique speech-language pathology background – and decades of business acumen – to help clients excel in speaking, writing, and listening. With a Master’s in Communication Disorders, Nicole is passionate about fostering more inclusive communication in the workplace. She’s a Content Director at Duarte, Inc. and the proud co-creator of Adaptive Listening™ – the new gold standard for listening in the workplace.

Maegan Stephens, Ph.D.
Maegan started earning her “10,000 hours” back when she was a competitive public-speaker in high school and college (yes, that’s a thing). From there, she sharpened her research skills with a PhD in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. She is the co-creator of the Adaptive Listening™ methodology and currently leads a team of Duarte, Inc. strategists, writers, and speaker coaches to transform the way people communicate.

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