Think of the last time you truly felt heard, a time where your thoughts and feelings weren’t skimmed over or ignored. The act of speaking actually makes you feel lighter. You don’t feel judged. You feel empowered.
Not everyone lets you feel that way. Sometimes listening seems to be a special skill, maybe reserved only for a select few. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.
What is it then, that makes someone a good listener?
Most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:
- Not talking when others are speaking
- Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
- Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word
But it is definitely more than that!
Don’t Give Advice Unless It’s Asked For
Advice is usually offered with the best intentions. But when someone is telling their story or venting, they aren’t necessarily looking for answers. More specifically, they aren’t necessarily looking for your answers. Not everyone is the same and not every problem needs the same solution.
It’s obviously different when someone asks for advice. Sharing a problem you need advice on is often different from venting. Venting is just a way of expressing frustration. But when we want help solving a problem, we usually ask.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
It’s helpful as a listener to ask the right questions. You don’t want to grill them but open-ended questions show that you’re engaged and want to know more.
It allows you to interact and make it a conversation without pressing too hard or demanding information. It makes the other person feel more comfortable talking to you without feeling like a burden.
Don’t Turn the Table Back to You
When you’re listening to someone else, it’s important not to bring the attention back to yourself. Bringing up your own personal experiences can add value to the conversation, especially when you’re trying to relate. But it isn’t helpful when it turns into the other person listening to you vent about your problems.
When someone brings up their problems, it shouldn’t be an opportunity for you to make it about yourself.
This is the most important, in listening and in life. Being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and have an understanding of what they’re going through is a valuable skill. It puts the other person at ease and makes them feel comfortable talking to you.
Empathy helps you avoid feeling pity. Pity can take you two steps backwards as a listener. No one wants to feel like a charity case talking about their problems.
Being a good listener makes you a better friend and family member. Be the kind of listener you would want to talk to. Someone supportive and understanding without being condescending. The more we try to listen and understand others, the more we understand the world we live in. Have empathy, listen, and be kind.