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. As simple as listening (and acknowledging) may seem, doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes sincere effort and lots of practice. If you want to know how to be a good listener, read on to get started!.
Listening with an Open Mind
1. Place yourself in the other person's shoes. It's easy to get lost in yourself and to only consider the impact of the other person's "telling" on you. But active listening is blocked by your inward thinking. Instead, you must open out and look at the problems from the other person's perspective: and assume that if you had been in their shoes, you would have come to the same conclusion, and not seen your way through the problem any faster than them. By being a good listener this can also help you become better friends with the person by getting to know more about them.
- Remember that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. This means that you should be listening more than you are talking. It is more beneficial to listen than it is to talk. When listening to people, engage in the conversation and make eye contact so they know that you care about what they are saying (even if you don't care, it is still polite). People who listen more are more observant and therefore more thoughtful and have a better understanding of things. Make sure you are listening and not doing something else. Try to make sure you are completely focused on the person who is talking and not gets sidetracked. Make sure you are making eye contact with the person, not someone else or something else.
- Instead of immediately judging the person who is speaking, or coming up with a "solution" right away, just take the time to listen and to look at the situation from the other person's perspective. Think about how you would feel if someone was silently judging you. This will help you truly hear the person instead of forming your own opinions before you truly understand the situation at hand.
2. Avoid comparing the person's experiences to your own. Though you may think that the best thing you can do to listen is to compare the person's experiences to your own, this is far from the truth. If the person is talking about dealing with a death in the family, you can share some wisdom, but avoid saying, "That's exactly like how it was with me..." This can come off as offensive or insensitive especially when you compare something really serious to your own less-intense experiences, such as comparing the person's divorce to your three-month-long relationship this may cause discomfort to the person talking.
- You may think that this is the best way to be helpful and to approach the situation, but this type of thinking is reductive and can make the person feel like you're not listening at all.
- Avoid saying "I" or "me" a lot. This is a good indicator that you're focusing more on yourself than on the person's situation.
- Of course, if the person knows that you've had a similar experience, then he or she may actively ask for your opinion. In this case, you can offer it, but be cautious about acting like your experiences are exactly like the other person's. This might seem as though you are just trying to make fake situations to seem helpful.
- Focus on absorbing everything the person is saying to you. Only after that can you try to help.
- Limit distractions. We live in a society that is filled with so many distractions. We are constantly listening to so much noise that it’s a challenge to truly listen to another person. For you to be a good listener, you need to limit distractions during your conversation, whether it be the television, telephones or interruptions. It takes a mental decision to limit distractions when you are listening to someone else.
- It's okay if you don't have a razor-sharp memory. However, if you keep having to stop and ask for clarification or keep forgetting who everyone is, then yeah, you won't come off as a very good listener. You don't have to remember every little detail, but you don't want the person who is speaking to feel like they have to repeat themselves a million times, either.
6. Follow up. Another important part of being a good listener is that you go beyond just hearing the person out having a conversation, and never thinking about it again. If you want to show that you care, then you should ask the person about the situation the next time you're alone together, or even shoot him or her a text or give a phone call to see how the situation is progressing. If it's something serious like an impending divorce, a job search, or even a health complication, then it can be very nice to show that you care by checking in, even when you're not being asked to. Don't be put off however if they don't want to follow up, accept their decision but tell them you're always there to support them.
- The person who talked to you might be touched that you made the effort to actually think about him or her beyond your conversation and to even check in to see how he or she is caring. This takes your listening skills to the next level.
- Of course, there's a difference between following up and nagging the person. If the person talking to you about how she wants to quit her job, you probably don't want to send a text every day asking if she did it yet, or you'll be putting unneeded pressure on the situation and creating stress instead of helping.
7. Know what not to do. Knowing what to avoid when you're trying to be a good listener can be almost as helpful as knowing what to do. If you want the speaker to take you seriously and to think that you are being respectful, then here are some general things to avoid:
- Don't interrupt in the middle of a point.
- Don't interrogate the person. Instead, gently ask questions when it's needed(i.e.between gaps or lulls when the person is not talking).
- Don't try to change the subject, even if it's a little uncomfortable.
- Avoid saying, "It's not the end of the world" or "You'll feel better in the morning." This just minimizes the person's problems and makes him or her feel bad. Make eye contact with the person so that they realize that you are interested and are listening.
Knowing What to Say
- Put aside your own needs, and wait patiently for the other person to unfold their thoughts at their own pace and in their way.
- Of course, when you say that what the person says will remain confidential, it should be true, unless there are circumstances that prevent you from keeping it to yourself, such as if the person is suicidal and you're deeply concerned. If you can't be trusted in general, though, then you'll never be a good listener.
3. Be encouraging when you do speak. It's important to use empathetic sounding back at appropriate intervals during the conversation so the speaker doesn't feel like you're not listening at all. It's helpful to "summarize and restate" or "repeat and encourage" the main points. This will help the conversation feel fluid and will make the speaker less self-conscious about talking. Here's what you should do:
- Repeat and encourage: Repeat some things the speaker said and, at the same time, provide positive feedback as encouragement. For example, you might say, "I can see that you didn't enjoy having to take the blame. I wouldn't have either." Go easy with this technique, though. Use the empathetic sound back as a nudge from time-to-time because if you overwork it, you will come across as patronizing.
- Summarize and restate: It is highly useful to summarize your understanding of what the "teller" has said and to restate it in your own words. This reassures the speaker that you have truly been listening to what he or she is saying and that you "got it". It also provides the speaker with an opportunity to correct mistaken assumptions and misconceptions on your part.
- Make sure to leave the door wide open with statements like, "I may be wrong, but..." or "...Correct me if I am wrong." This technique is especially useful when you find yourself getting frustrated or you sense that your listening focus is wavering.
4. 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 conclusions about the issues being raised. This can help the speaker make his or her conclusions without sounding judgmental or too forceful. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Once you have shown empathetic listening, it is time to move into empowered listening: Re-frame the questions you ask. For example, "You didn't enjoy having to take the blame. But I cannot understand why you feel blamed rather than merely being asked not to do something that way."
- Wording the question in this manner presents the speaker with a need to respond directly to your lack of grasping something. In the response process, the speaker should begin to move from a more emotional response to a more logical and constructive response.
5. Wait for the person to open up. In the process of encouraging a constructive response, an active listener must be ever-so-patient and let the speaker acquire his or her full flow of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. These may, at first, start as a trickle and the full flow may take a long time to develop. If you press too early and ask too many personal, probing questions, that may have the opposite of the intended effect and may make the person feel defensive and reluctant to share any information.
- Keep your patience and keep your place in the "teller's" shoes. It sometimes helps to imagine why the "teller" has worked in such a situation.
6. Do not interrupt what you feel or think about the "telling". Instead, wait for the other person to ask your opinion before breaking the flow of their discourse. Active listening requires the listener to shelve his or her own opinions temporarily and patiently await appropriate breaks in the conversation. When the conversation breaks, provide a summary or an empathetic concurrence.
- If you interrupt the person too soon, then he or she will be frustrated and won't fully absorb what you're saying. The person will be eager to finish saying his or her part and you'll be causing a nuisance and a distraction.
- Abstain from giving direct advice (unless you're asked for it). Instead, let the individual talk the situation out and find his or her way. This empowers both the individual and you. It is the course most likely to result in beneficial change and self-understanding for the "teller" and you.
7. 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. Also, 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.
- You can even pat the speaker's hand or knee, put an arm around him or her, or give another reassuring touch. Do whatever is appropriate to the situation. You don't want to overstep your bounds when it comes to touching.
- Offer to assist with any solutions if you have the ability, time, and expertise. Do not build up false hopes, though. If the only resource you can provide is to continue to be an active listener, make that very clear. This, in and of itself, this is a precious help.
8. When giving advice, remember to make it neutral and not too influenced by your own experiences. Think about what is best for the person in question rather than what you did, although this may help.
Using Appropriate Body Language
1. 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 it comes to being a good listener, you need to have eye contact with the other person. 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.
- Focus your eyes, ears, and your thoughts only on him/her and become a good listener. Don't concentrate on thinking about what you will say next, but instead, focus fully on what the other person is saying. (Remember that it's about the person, not you.)
2. Give the speaker your full attention. If you want to be a good listener, then you need to create a conducive physical and mental space. Remove all distractions and confer all of your attention to the person who has something to say to you. Turn off communication devices (including cell phones) and arrange to talk in a place with no distractions. Once you are face-to-face, quiet your mind and pay attention to what the other person is telling. Show them that you are helpful.
- Pick a place that is free of distractions or other people who might grab your attention. If you go to a coffee shop, make sure you're focused on the person who is speaking, not the interesting characters who walk in and out of the door.
- If you're talking in a public place like a restaurant or a cafe, avoid sitting near a television that's on. Even if you're determined to give the person all of your attention, it can be tempting to take a quick look at the television, especially if your favorite team is playing.
3. Encourage the speaker with body language. Nodding your head will indicate that you understand what the speaker is saying, and will encourage them to continue. Adopting body postures, positions and movements that are similar to the speaker (mirroring) will enable the speaker to relax and open up more. Try looking straight into their eyes. Not only does this show you are listening, but it shows you take a real interest in what they are saying.
- Another way to have encouraging body language is to turn your body toward the speaker. If you're turned away from the speaker, then it may look like you're itching to leave. If you cross your legs, for example, cross your leg toward the speaker instead of away.
- Don't cross your arms over your chest, either. This will make you appear standoffish or skeptical even if you don't feel that way.
4. Listen actively to express your interest. Active listening involves the entire body and face — both yours and that of the speaker. You can be quiet while still making it clear that you are hanging on to every word that the speaker is telling you. Here's how you can make the most of the situation by being an active listener:
- Your words: Though you don't have to say, "Mmhmm," "I see," or "Right," every five seconds or it will begin to get annoying, you can throw in an encouraging phrase here and there to show that you're paying attention. If that person whom you are talking to means something to you, then you will surely pay attention and help them sort out their problem if there is any.
- Your expression: Look interested and meet the gaze of the speaker from time to time. Do not overwhelm the speaker by staring intently, but do reflect friendliness and openness to what you are listening to.
- Read between the lines: Always be alert for things that have been left unsaid and for cues that can help you gauge the speaker's true feelings. Watch the facial and body expressions of the "teller" to try to gather all the information you can, not just from the words. Imagine what kind of state of mind would have made you acquire such expressions, body language, and volume.
- Speak at approximately the same energy level as the other person. This way, they will know that the message is getting through and that there is no need to repeat.
5. Don't expect them to open up immediately. Be patient and willing to just listen, without giving any advice.
- Try to repeat what the other person is saying to confirm the exact meaning. Sometimes words can mean two different things. The best way to confirm and avoid misunderstanding between the conversationalists is to repeat what the other person is saying so that the other person knows you were listening and both of you have the same idea.
- Consider their circumstances. If they are a sensitive person, don't give them "tough love."