Top Skills of Great Mentors: Be an Exceptional Listener

Top Skills of Great Mentors: Be an Exceptional Listener

When we think of convincing communicators, we tend to think of impassioned speeches and strongly argued debates. People focus on improving their verbal communication skills, practicing how to articulate and clearly present their views. Doing this well garners praise and gets us noticed as we advance in our careers.

Let’s take a look at the quiet side of communication: listening. While what is verbalized is certainly critical to effective communication, listening may be even more essential In fact, Julian Treasure, the sound expert, argues that listening is so important that it should be taught to our children in school, right along presentation skills.

Menttium mentees tell us that their mentors are exceptional listeners. While we know that good listeners show patience, are present and ask good questions, what can we learn from our mentors in order to move from good to exceptional?

Our mentors embody the skills that Bernard Ferrari, dean of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business school, explains “mean the difference between success and failure in business ventures.”

1) Demonstrate respect

Exceptional listeners expect everyone to contribute something unique. They seek “input from people at all levels of staff.” By showing respect, we receive insights and other perspectives that we might otherwise miss. Respectful listening also helps the other person to discover insights that they may not have uncovered if they hadn’t been listened to so intently.

2) Keep quiet

While this may seem obvious – after all, if you are listening, you’re not talking, right? – but it goes deeper than simply not speaking. Exceptional listeners keep quiet so the other person has the space to say what they really want and need to say. Also, body language, speech patterns and word choice can tell us volumes about the meaning behind what someone else is actually saying. Exceptional listeners notice these clues.

3) Avoid assumptions

In conversation, it can be natural to fast-forward to a response we feel we will inevitably hear. Not only can these assumptions be incorrect and get us in trouble, but avoiding them prevents us from inadvertently acting like we know it all, helps us learn something new and gain a perspective other than our own.

The next time you’re considering how effective a communicator you are, be sure to give some attention to your listening skills. How might you take yours from good to exceptional?



1. Ferrari, Bernard T. “The Executive’s Guide to Better Listening.” McKinsey Quarterly. February 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2017.

2. Treasure, Julian. “5 Ways to Listen Better.” TED. July 2011. Lecture.

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