Listening can feel at times like a lost art, maybe because we are communicating so much more electronically. That’s too bad, because being a good listener can help you in every aspect of your life – with family and friends, and with your colleagues at work.
Being a good listener can help you to see the world through the eyes of others. It enriches your understanding and expands your capacity for empathy. It also increases your contact with the outside world by helping you improve your communication skills. Good listening skills can provide you with a deeper level of understanding about someone’s situation, and helps to know what words are best to use or which words to avoid
Here are a few tips on how to be a good listener:
- Talk Less, Listen More
One of the most important parts of listening is to be present in the conversation. Don’t let your mind wander and be distracted. Focus on the now. Listen to what they’re sharing and be willing to engage.
One of the most common difficulties with being present is that people keep thinking of what to say next. You will listen to the first part of what the person is sharing, then the rest of your mind is busy thinking about what you should say when they’re finished. Or they share a personal problem with you and you immediately begin trying to think of a solution. This is not being present. This is not listening.
Remember, it’s not about you.
- Make Eye Contact
Eye contact is important when you are listening. If you give your friend the impression you aren’t interested and are distracted, they may never open up to you again.
When someone is talking to you, focus directly on their eyes so that they will know with certainty that you are absorbing every single word. Even if the topic is not interesting to you, at least respect and truly listen to what the speaker has to say. Don’t stare off in space.
- Give the Speaker your Attention
If you want to be a good listener, then it’s important for you to create a conducive physical and mental space. Turn off communication devices (including cell phones) and arrange to talk in a place with no distractions, if needed.
If you are face-to-face, quiet your mind and pay attention to what the other person is telling. Show it to them that you are helpful.
- Keep an Open Mind
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what they say alarms you, go ahead and feel alarmed, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental bemusements, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.
Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.
- Validate them for being Vulnerable
Opening up to someone else is hard. It takes a lot to be vulnerable to another person. Sharing your feelings isn’t weak, it’s one of the bravest things a person can do. So let the other person know that.
Thank them for opening up. Show appreciation that the person trusts you.
- Ask Meaningful and Empowering Questions
Refrain from probing or putting the other person on the defensive. Rather, aim to use questions as a means by which the speaker can begin to reach his or her own conclusions about the issues being raised.
This can help the speaker make his or her own conclusions without sounding judgmental or too forceful.
- Reassure the Speaker
Whatever the conclusion of the conversation, let the speaker know that you have been happy to listen and to be a sounding board. Make it clear that you are open to further discussion, if need be, but that you will not pressure him or her at all.
In addition, reassure the speaker of your intention to keep the discussion confidential. Even if the speaker is in a terrible situation and saying something like, “It’s all going to be okay” seems completely inappropriate, you can still reassure the speaker by saying that you’re there to listen and to help.