Being a good listener is something most of us think we do well, but few truly do. Good listening is the cornerstone of healthy communication in any relationship – be it with your friends, family or even coworkers. Listening is not just a passive action – it is a lot more than just staying silent while the other person speaks. A good listener demonstrates empathy, sincerely seeks to understand the other person, and provides comfort and support. Here are some ways you can be a good listener:
- Be attentive – being a good listener involves focusing your time and attention on the person talking. Being distracted or multitasking especially when someone is upset, emotional or sharing something deeply personal can not only lead to you missing non-verbal cues and nuances to their story, but it can also make them feel dismissed and or have their problems seem trivialized. If you are caught at a bad time and can’t listen effectively, explain your situation to let them know that you will be able to better respond to them as soon as you can wrap up your tasks and provide your undivided attention.
- Listen to understand, not respond – when someone is upset, emotional or struggling with a difficult situation, our first instinct is to try to fix things or offer advice or solutions to their problems, often rather prematurely. While that may come from a place of love and concern, it sometimes comes at the cost of not fully understanding the depth of the situation. On the other hand, if we are in conflict with someone and attempt to hear them out, we are only listening to respond instead of listening to actually understand their perspective. We wait for the first pause in the conversation to interject with our own opinion or defend our beliefs and actions. In both cases, it is important to slow down the conversation, be curious about the other person’s thoughts and feelings on the matter and engage in meaningful conversation that leads to self-discovery and creates new insight. Good listening involves a two-way dialogue and sometimes it can take a while to get to the heart of the real issue, so patience is key.
- Understand what the person needs – this may vary from person to person, and between different situations. Often people share their thoughts and emotions to seek emotional validation more than solutions or advice. Or they might just be seeking clarity and need someone to bounce their ideas off of. Being supportive involves first figuring out what exactly is needed of you in each situation. It may not always be immediately obvious so if you are unsure it helps to ask them directly what they need in that moment or what you could do to make them feel better. Hold off on offering advice unless solicited. If you have something relevant to contribute which could help them in their predicament or add a different perspective, ask them if it is okay if you offered a suggestion – this gives them the opportunity to say yes or no and is more likely to be considered when it feels less imposing.
- Create the right environment – being a good listener involves creating a safe and inviting environment that would allow a person to open up and express their thoughts and emotions freely without fear of being judged or jeopardizing any aspect of their relationship with you.
Set aside your judgement and agendas and approach each situation with an open mind – even if you don’t agree with the other person’s choices and opinions, remember that your role isn’t to influence the situation to attain the outcome you think is best, but rather to support them while they navigate their own thought process to arrive at the best possible solutions or choices for themselves. Remaining calm in stressful or heated situations is also important – otherwise you will be adding your own stress to theirs which invariably makes things more difficult. Making the other person feel supported in their time of need builds trust, strengthens relationships, and makes the other person feel confident and reassured, knowing they have someone in their life they can turn to when things get rough.