The 10 Principles of Listening

See also: Active Listening

A good listener will listen not only to what is being said, but also to what is left unsaid or only partially said.

Effective listening therefore involves observing body language and noticing inconsistencies between verbal and non-verbal messages, as well as just what is being said at any given moment.

For example, if someone tells you that they are happy with their life but through gritted teeth or with tears filling their eyes, you should consider that the verbal and non-verbal messages are in conflict. Maybe they don't mean what they say.

Listening is therefore not just a matter of using your ears, but also your eyes. There are ten principles behind really good listening.

Ten Principles of Effective Listening

1. Stop Talking

Don't talk, listen.

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.

Mark Twain

When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop, just listen. 

When the other person has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.

2. Prepare Yourself to Listen


Focus on the speaker.  Put other things out of mind.  The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts – what’s for lunch, what time do I need to leave to catch my train, is it going to rain – try to put other thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.

3. Put the Speaker at Ease

Help the speaker to feel free to speak.

Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. 

Maintain eye contact but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.

4. Remove Distractions

Focus on what is being said.

Don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window, pick your fingernails or similar. Avoid unnecessary interruptions. These behaviours disrupt the listening process and send messages to the speaker that you are bored or distracted.

5. Empathise

Try to understand the other person’s point of view.

Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathise with the speaker. If the speaker says something that you disagree with then wait and construct an argument to counter what is said but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.

See our page: What is Empathy? for more.

6. Be Patient

A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished.

Be patient and let the speaker continue in their own time, sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for someone.

Our page on Patience has more information.

7. Avoid Personal Prejudice

Try to be impartial.

Don't become irritated and don't let the person’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what the speaker is really saying.

Everybody has a different way of speaking - some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking - others like to sit still. 

Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.

8. Listen to the Tone

Volume and tone both add to what someone is saying.

A good speaker will use both volume and tone to their advantage to keep an audience attentive; everybody will use pitch, tone and volume of voice in certain situations – let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.

See our page: Effective Speaking for more.

9. Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words

You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces.

Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions, and focus this becomes easier.

10. Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication

Gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movements can all be important.

We don’t just listen with our ears but also with our eyes – watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.

See our page: Non-verbal Communication.

Introduction to Communication Skills - The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Our Communication Skills eBooks

Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be a more effective communicator.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

HURIER Model of Listening

The acronym HURIER is sometimes used in academic texts to summarise a model of effective listening skills. This model was developed by Judi Brownell of Cornell University.

H – Hearing

‘Hearing’ is used here in a very broad sense.  Not only does it refer to the physical act of hearing, but also to picking up on non-verbal and other signals; tone of voice, body language and facial expressions, for example.

U – Understanding

Once the message has been ‘heard’, the next step is to understand. This means tying together all the element of ‘hearing’ to create a coherent understanding of what was communicated. Factors like language and accent may affect your understanding.

R – Remembering

Remembering requires focus. An effective listener needs to be able to remember the message they are receiving in its entirety.

I – Interpreting

Interpretation of the message builds on, and enhances, understanding.  Interpretation means considering factors such as the context in which the message was sent. Importantly, here the listener also needs to be aware of, and avoid, any preconceptions or biases that they may hold that may affect how the message is interpreted.

E – Evaluating

Evaluating requires that the listener keeps an open mind on the messages they are receiving and doesn’t jump to conclusions about what is being said.  Evaluate all the information and only then start to formulate a response.

R – Responding

Finally, your response should be well-measured and demonstrate that you have understood what was communicated.  It may be necessary to use techniques such as clarification and reflection as part of the response.

The HURIER model can be a useful way to describe and remember the key components of effective or active listening

It is important to understand, however, that the processes involved do not happen in a linear way. An effective listener needs to be able to simultaneously hear, understand, interpret and evaluate the message to be able to formulate a clear understanding and an appropriate response.