How to be a Good Listener?
Many of us undermine the benefits of being a good listener. We tend to think of listening as somewhat a passive behavior, but there’s undoubtably a lot going on between the ears!
The act of listening entails quite a few things that render the behavior far from being a passive one. Active listening requires us to be focused, open, non-judgmental, and empathetic. It boils down to making a sincere effort to try and understand the speaker and putting ourselves in their shoes.
Becoming a better listener isn’t easy but it can powerfully impact both our personal lives and our communities at large.
The skill of becoming a good listener is the foundation of a successful conversation in any setting—whether at work, at home, or in social settings. It is an essential skill to acquire as it makes the other person feel heard and valued.
Active Listening Techniques
Be Fully Present
To use this active listening technique effectively, you need to put away your cell phone, ignore distractions, avoid daydreaming, and shut down your internal dialogue. Try to place your focus on your conversation partner and let everything else slip away.
Keep Good Eye Contact
When engaged in active listening, making eye contact is very important. This tells the other person that you are present and listening to what they say. It also shows that you aren’t distracted by anything else around you, as if silently telling the speaker “you are important”.
Patience is an important active listening technique because it allows the other person to speak without interruption. It also gives them the time to say what they are thinking without having you try to finish their sentences for them or interrupt them.
Ask Good Questions
Instead of asking questions which only require a yes or no answer, try and ask open questions that invite the speaker to open up even more. These include the how, what, where, who and why questions.
For example, instead of saying ‘has this been going on for a long time? Ask ‘how long has this been going on?’
Summarize what you’ve heard
When the person you’re talking to pauses or signals that he or she wants feedback, it can help to summarize what you’ve heard. It’s a way of showing understanding and empathy, especially when the speaker is expressing something that is meaningful.
Things to avoid during active listening
Though you may appear to be listening, your mind is elsewhere. Instead of really taking in what the other person is saying, you’re thinking about your perfect response and eagerly awaiting your chance to talk. Or it can be that your mind is wandering completely. If you’re struggling to stay focused on the conversation, try mentally repeating their words as they say them.
Avoid cutting in, no matter how important you think your thought or opinion is. Wait till they’re completely finished speaking before you respond.
Sympathy instead of empathy:
A sympathetic approach means you feel bad for the other person but you aren’t feeling with the other person. Using empathy means you are taking the other person’s perspective, understanding what they’re experiencing and being there with them in a non-judgmental way.
I like to advise my clients to start off their sentences in their approach to being a good listener by words such as ‘I can’t even imagine how this feels like, but I’m certain that what you’re going through is really tough’…
It’s important to differentiate between sympathy (don’t worry, you’ll be ok) and empathy (what you’re going through is very difficult). We have to allow space for the speaker to voice all the emotions they’re feeling. When we create a safe environment that allows them to do just that, we are telling them ‘you are heard and safe, I am here for you’.
If you would like help with your communication skills and relationships, consider seeing a therapist. Contact Dr. Carla Kesrouani and set up a time to talk with her to help you overcome any mental health challenge you might be suffering from!