How to Improve Listening Skills on the Phone

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Improve your customer service skills, build better relationships with your coworkers, and advance your career when you learn how to improve your listening skills.

Listening skills are similar, no matter whether in person, in written communication, or on the phone. There are, however, subtle differences in your listening techniques depending on where you’re listening. When you’re working remotely, tools such as Zoom, Teams, or old-school telephones are often the way you communicate with customers and coworkers. Use these tips to improve your listening skills on the phone.


Focusing on the conversation is how to improve your listening skills on the phone. Resist the temptation to engage silently with coworkers while your caller is speaking. Ignore distractions such as activities going on around you. If you were the caller, isn’t that what you would want? Give the caller your complete attention.


When the caller is finished describing the reason for their call, ask if it’s okay to summarize to ensure you understand. Say something like, “Do you mind if I summarize what you just said to ensure I understand?” Then, paraphrase what they said.

Let Them Finish

Avoid the temptation to interrupt with comments or questions until the caller is finished with what they’re saying. Avoid finishing sentences for them. How to improve listening skills includes letting the other person finish what they’re saying.

Avoid Assumptions

Don’t assume you understand the reason for their call until they’re finished describing it. You may think you’ve heard this problem before, but you can’t be sure until they finish. When you make assumptions about the reason for the call, you could miss some small, but significant detail. Just let them finish.

Take Notes

I keep a notebook with me during business hours so I can take notes when a customer calls. Don’t trust your memory. If your company uses customer relationship management software, it may also allow note taking. It doesn’t matter how you take notes of the call, just be sure to do it!

How to Improve Listening Skills? Stop Talking!

In a study conducted by Vertex Data Science in cooperation with the MIT Media Lab, they discovered that one of the keys to customer service success was for customer service reps to listen more than they talk. You can’t hear what the caller is saying when you’re talking. How to improve listening skills? Stop talking!

Ask Relevant Questions

Being a good listener, however, doesn’t mean that you don’t talk at all. It also includes asking relevant questions to ensure you understand the speaker’s meaning. According to the Harvard Business Review, “…ask questions that promote discovery and insight.” Ask questions like a student, not as a prosecutor!

Listen for Emotion

Obviously, when you’re on the phone, you can’t see the caller’s facial expressions nor their body language. That means you must listen carefully for more than the words they’re saying. Listen, also, for their emotions. The caller’s tone-of-voice, combined with their words, can give you insights into how to respond.

Be Patient

Think about past times when you were confused or frustrated by a product or service that didn’t do what you expected. Maybe it was a problem with the product or service or maybe you misunderstood how to use it. Regardless, you needed help and the customer service support line was where you turned. You needed the agent to be patient with you while you worked through the issue. Your callers are exactly the same way. They may be struggling to understand how to use your product or service, or it may not be acting the way they expect. They’re frustrated, maybe feel stupid, and just need you to be patient with them.

When you use these tips, you’ll automatically become a better listener, your customers and coworkers will feel dignified by you, and your customer service will improve.

Learn How to Be a Better Communicator in the Workplace

Check out the Compassionate Geek on-demand course How to Be a Better Listener: The Fine Art of Listening Well. See the course description, outline, and sample videos here.

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