No-nonsense perspectives on startup growth

This article was published on December 10, 2020


We’re all bad listeners — here are my tricks to become a better one

The antidote to my terrible conversation habits

We’re all bad listeners — here are my tricks to become a better one


Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

CEO and co-founder, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and pr.co. Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

Many conversations are just one person waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can tell their own story. How do I know? Ehm… well maybe I find myself too often in that situation.

Sometimes it’s fine though, and you’re both just associating freely, letting one thought lead to another. But other times, it’s just because you’re bored by someone’s story and want to impress others with your own better story. Every now and again, however, it’s simply because you’re too lazy. Again, I’m speaking from experience.

While I’m guilty of these fundamental conversational sins just as much as everyone else, I console myself with the fact that at least I’m aware of my wrongdoing. Also, I’ve got neat tricks to force myself to pay attention.

First up: imagine the life of the person you’re listening to.

[Read: Being an entrepreneur is stressful — here’s how I unwind]

This definitely sounds weird, so let me explain. When I’m talking to someone and feel my attention slipping, I focus on the person’s face and imagine what it tells me about their life. I look at the crow’s feet around their eyes, do they love to make people laugh? Or maybe they go to see every rom-com that’s released in the cinema? I see their tanned skin and wonder if they ever backpacked in an exotic country and what amazing things they might have experienced there.

Everyone has a story, and they’re all worth listening to. Pretty soon, I’ll appreciate this person more, and because I’m so focused on them and invested in the idea of their life, I’ll be able to listen better to what they have to say now.

My other ‘trick’ revolves around empathy.

It’s a word that seems closely related to pity or compassion, but empathy is more than that. It’s the ability to understand other people‘s emotions or even predict and understand someone’s thinking.

When someone tells a story, I stare at their face and try to imagine what they are thinking and what they want to achieve with the story they’re telling. Basically, I refocus my attention from my own thoughts to the speaker’s story by thinking about their motivation, making me a better listener.

Giving someone your full attention is an easy way to make someone feel appreciated. Unfortunately, there’s a voice in your head that’s always screaming for attention too. Find your own way to shut it up to give someone 100% of your attention and see what happens.

Can’t get enough of Boris? Check out his older stories here, and sign up for TNW’s newsletters here.

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