Think about how powerful it is to be heard. It's equally powerful to have good listening skills.
Reflect on an occasion when you had something to say, something important or vulnerable to share, and you knew you had the full attention of the other person.
That level of attention, when you know the other person is really listening to you, makes you feel valued.
It makes you feel safe, understood, and important. Being heard validates you.
Now think about a time when you had something to say, but you didn't get that level of attention.
The other person was distracted or disinterested, and you felt ignored, diminished, and inconsequential.
Why Is Being a Good Listener Important?
Unfortunately, being a good listener is becoming more and more of a lost art. Face to face and even phone conversations are no longer the primary way we communicate.
The gatekeepers of our interactions are our computers and cell phones where we email or text in terse, abbreviated, and frequently misunderstood communique.
When we do have in-person conversations, these same devices steal our attention the minute we hear a ding. It's nearly impossible to be a good listener when you're on constant alert for some other more important message that distracts you.
We all know it's important to have effective listening skills because we know how good it feels when we're heard. Most of us want to be active listeners and to have the people we care about feel heard.
But the ability to listen well affords other benefits beyond supporting others and gaining their appreciation.
Quick note: Having good communication on a date and in a relationship is an important skill to develop. To learn more, check out this course that is helping couples learn healthy communication skills.
- Why Is Being a Good Listener Important?
- How to Be a Good Listener: 15 Key Strategies
- 1. Remove or avoid distractions.
- 2. Notice non-verbal communication and tone of voice.
- 3. Be the mirror.
- 4. Empathize, sympathize, and use body language.
- 5. Practice silence.
- 6. Ask probing questions.
- 7. Don't interrupt or change the subject.
- 8. Think before responding.
- 9. Approach listening with a learner's mindset.
- 10. Practice non-judgment.
- 11. Take responsibility for a positive conversation.
- 12. Validate the speaker's emotions.
- 13. Find areas of agreement.
- 14. Be trustworthy and discreet.
- 15. Take notes when necessary.
- Practice Being a Good Listener
As a good listener, you can . . .
- Improve relationships in your personal and professional lives.
- Become more empathetic by focusing on others and what they share.
- Better solve problems for others and yourself.
- Learn different points of view to broaden your perspective.
- Retain more important information that is useful for life and career success.
- Make decisions easily because you have more information at your disposal.
- Avoid conflicts and misunderstandings as you gain more clarity.
- Increase your confidence with access to more information and awareness.
Being a good listener is a strength similar to having good manners. It's a quality that doesn't seem to be a social requirement any longer, but if you practice it, it sets you apart from the crowd and makes others gravitate toward you.
Would you like to listen better and sharpen your listening skills? We have some strategies for you.
How to Be a Good Listener: 15 Key Strategies
1. Remove or avoid distractions.
If you are going to converse with someone (or several people), then take a moment to anticipate possible distractions and remove them.
Turn off your cell phone and put it away. Turn your computer off or turn off the sound so you can't hear emails and notifications coming in. Turn off the TV, radio, or any other device that could be distracting.
If someone needs to speak to you, and you're in the middle of a project or task, either ask them to wait until you're done or stop what you're doing to listen. Multi-tasking doesn't allow for good listening.
If you're in a social setting, and you are speaking one-on-one with someone, try to step aside to a quiet space where you won't be pulled away or interrupted by other people.
Definitely don't look over the other person's shoulder while they're talking to see who else is in the room.
2. Notice non-verbal communication and tone of voice.
Hearing someone's words is just a small part of being a good listener. We communicate far more through our expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
When you are listening to someone, also watch them carefully.
- Are their arms crossed defensively, or are they sitting in an open, confident manner?
- Are they saying, “Everything's fine” with their words, but their face looks pinched and anxious?
Also, listen to how they present what they have to say.
- Do they sound tired, depressed, enthusiastic, confused?
- Are they mumbling, talking too loudly, or stating everything as though it were a question?
Learn the art of reading what people are really saying beyond their words. This can help you be more compassionate and understanding of people — and it can help you avoid getting involved with someone who appears deceitful, disinterested, or controlling.
3. Be the mirror.
A great technique for active listening skills is mirroring the person you are listening to. Without appearing to mimic them, try to reflect back their same tone of voice and speech pattern. You can also mirror their gestures and body language.
Mirroring helps build rapport with the other person, and it encourages the feeling that you share similar attitudes and ideas.
You can also reflect the concept or ideas you just heard communicated from the other person to reinforce that you understood and heard what they said. This is particularly important in your intimate relationships or in conflict situations.
For example, the other person might say, “I feel really hurt when you don't help me clean up after dinner.”
You might summarize and restate, “So what I'm hearing you say is that when I don't help you clean up, it causes you pain.” You reflect words back to show you understood them correctly and that you care what was communicated.
4. Empathize, sympathize, and use body language.
You can show your interest and connection in a conversation through your own expressions, body language, and words.
- Nod in agreement to show you are engaged and listening.
- Lean forward toward the other person.
- Smile or show concern appropriately.
- Offer words of affirmation and kindness.
- Give a hand squeeze or a warm touch on the shoulder to show empathy.
These subtle communications speak volumes about your level of engagement, understanding, and interest.
5. Practice silence.
Sometimes the very best way to listen is to allow a space of silence in the conversation. A verbal response isn't always necessary, and this space of silence invites the speaker to offer more of what they are thinking and feeling.
It's uncomfortable to sit in silence for more than a few seconds, but push past the discomfort and just sit with it. Sometimes the most powerful connections are made in that silent space.
6. Ask probing questions.
Before offering advice, try using powerful questions to help others uncover answers and solutions for themselves.
Use open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. Open-ended questions invite deeper insight and discourse between the two of you.
Simply the act of asking a probing question as a follow-up to a comment shows the other person you are paying attention and interested.
Be sure your questioning doesn't become an interrogation. You want to listen more than you question, but when you do ask a question, it should be well-timed and non-threatening.
Something as simple as, “Can you tell me more about that?” is enough to show you are really listening.
7. Don't interrupt or change the subject.
If you want to be a good listener, you need to allow the speaker to complete a thought without interrupting them.
You've probably encountered people who frequently interrupt, take over the conversation, and use the audience as a platform for talking about themselves or sharing their knowledge or expertise.
Even if they are doing this unconsciously, it feels as though they haven't heard a word you've said — or that they don't really care about what you have to say.
Before you interject your response or make your case, be sure the other person is finished speaking. Allow for a pause in the conversation long enough to ensure it's your turn to talk.
Also, don't leave the speaker hanging out there with a conversation topic they've started by abruptly changing the subject. Offer a response or an additional thought to the topic before you move on to something you want to talk about.
8. Think before responding.
When it is your time to speak, let your words be a reflection of your careful listening. If you are truly engaged in what the other person is saying, then you aren't focused on what you want to say.
Rather that blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, take a moment to think about your response and what you want to offer.
If your opinion is solicited, be sure you reflect carefully on what you just heard so you can offer a well-considered reply.
9. Approach listening with a learner's mindset.
Everyone has a story to tell, experiences to share, and ideas worth hearing. Don't assume that you know more than the speaker or that he or she doesn't have anything interesting to say.
Curiosity and interest in people is a sign of intelligence and humility. You recognize that you aren't the center of the universe and that others may have something valuable to offer you — even if it's something you may disagree with.
Invite others to share their opinions and knowledge, and ask pertinent questions that draw them out even more. Listen to understand and learn rather than to offer a counter opinion. Try to walk away from every conversation having learned something new.
10. Practice non-judgment.
Practicing non-judgment when listening is hard because we tend to make quick assumptions about people that color our opinions about them.
One disagreeable comment or body language that seems insecure or off-putting can make us withdraw from someone before we even get to know them.
Be centered enough in yourself to step back, refrain from jumping to conclusions, and recognize that there is so much more to a person than what meets the eye or ear. When you find yourself making quick judgments, this is the perfect time to show kindness, curiosity, and empathy.
11. Take responsibility for a positive conversation.
If you begin a conversation with the intention of it being interesting, positive, and memorable, you have set the stage for a great connection.
You want the other person to feel safe talking to you — even about uncomfortable topics — and you can do that through your warmth and genuine interest in them.
When the other person feels validated and supported, they are more confident to share their thoughts and feelings, allowing for a more fulsome and authentic interaction with you.
12. Validate the speaker's emotions.
In communication, there is often so much more going on inside the speaker than the spoken words suggest. As mentioned in point #2, good listeners seek to read the emotions that are underneath the speaker's words.
By paying attention to the feelings behind the words, you enhance the conversation for a deeper understanding of the other person. They not only feel you have heard them but also that you really get them.
Make statements like, “I sense you are really upset about this,” or “You must feel really disappointed and frustrated,” to let the listener know you understand what they are feeling. You validate and empathize with the true substance of what this person is sharing.
13. Find areas of agreement.
There are many topics of conversation in which disagreements and differing opinions can arise. Think politics, religion, money, and the best way to put the toilet paper on the roll.
As tempting as it may be to counter someone's opinion you disagree with, take the higher and safer road. Look for areas where you can agree. Find a way to steer the conversation in a direction that's a win-win for both (or all) people.
This maneuvering is a diplomatic skill worth learning, as it can save a conversation and even a relationship. Most controversial topics aren't worth angering someone over, and speaking your mind won't win you any points as listener of the year.
You can use noncommittal statements like, “That's an interesting point” or “I've never heard it put that way before” to transition to neutral territory. Or you can interject something like, “I think we can all agree that . . .” to shift the discussion to an area of agreement.
14. Be trustworthy and discreet.
Have you ever shared something personal with someone, and you see that glint in their eyes that screams, “I can't wait to go gossip with someone about this juicy tidbit”? You feel betrayed before they leave the conversation.
As a good listener, you need to communicate your integrity as a confidant — even if you didn't intend to be one. Sometimes people overshare, especially with those who show interest and empathy.
Ask the speaker, “Is this information private?” Or just assume it is — especially if there is no valid reason to share it. Your discretion not only makes you a better listener. It makes you a person of character.
15. Take notes when necessary.
In social settings or chatting with your spouse, you don't need to take notes to show you're listening. If you did, it might seem weird or contrived.
But there are situations when taking notes is perfectly appropriate and often necessary. If you're in a meeting, talking with your boss, or at a doctor's office, writing down what the speaker is saying shows you feel the information is valuable and important.
Of course, you don't want to look like a stenographer who's penning every word, but making notes about specific points reveals you are engaged and listening. You may want to review the highlights of your notes with the speaker at the end of the conversation to ensure you captured the most salient information.
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Practice Being a Good Listener
Becoming a good listener is a skill you must practice. It's far too easy to spin off into your own world of distractions, ideas, and words.
- Consciously work on becoming more of a listener than a talker.
- Learn to read other people's expressions and body language.
- Watch for the things that go unsaid but that are still communicated.
As you become more skilled at listening, you'll find people gravitate toward you more for your opinion and feedback. You'll have a skill that gives you the edge in your career and in all of your relationships.
What do you need to do today to become a better listener? Start with just one of the eight actions listed in this article. Practice it diligently, and you'll be surprised at the good listening habits you'll begin to develop.