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How To Be A Good Listener?

How to be a good listener? 3 simple steps!

Becoming a good listener is a skill that can be learned:

What would you like to hear when things aren’t going your way?

Picture yourself at the end of a long, stressful day. You finally get your children to sleep and call your go-to support person to share the details of your day.

“I’m so exhausted. I didn’t get the laundry done on time yesterday so Ben didn’t have clean socks to wear and the day just started off on a bad note. The baby was extra cranky today. I think she’s teething, and she would not go down for her nap. The laundry’s still not done, my house is flying, and I feel like a failure.”

Cheerfully, your friend replies “Oh well, tomorrow’s another day!”

Do you feel better now?

Do you feel like you were heard and understood?

Will you hang up the phone feeling better?

Most likely not!

What about if you shared your stressors and got the following response:

“That sounds draining! It is such an awful feeling when things seem out of control.”

“Yes! It is!”

What are you feeling now? Likely, some relief at being listened to, and having your feelings validated instead of brushed off. This scenario depicts one common way we inhibit our listening skills from being effective. We attempt to make the other person feel better by brushing off the feeling they are expressing with a more hopeful remark.

Another way we err with our listening skills is when we commiserate with the other person. We may think we are being supportive in letting them know they are not alone, but we are actually overshadowing their experience instead of listening and showing an appreciation and understanding of their lived experience.

Consider this scenario: “I’m so nervous about going into labor.” Dini, expecting her first child, shared with her friend Aviva.

Aviva nodded. “I know what you mean. When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I spent the last trimester obsessed with hearing people’s birth stories so I could get a clue about what it was going to be like.”

While friends can certainly share their experiences with one another, as an initial response it would be preferable to focus on the feeling being shared.

As someone with finetuned listening skills, Aviva would have responded as follows:

“It’s typical to be nervous about the unknown. Is there something, in particular, that is worrying you?”

With this response, Dini would likely have felt that her feelings were real and normal and that her friend was actually listening to her. In the course of the conversation that followed, Aviva would get the chance to share her personal experiences, as they might in fact benefit Dini.

Another point to mention is how there tends to be a difference in the way that males and females communicate. Males tend to be more solution-focused and women tend to have a creative communication process where problems are explored. Therefore, when working on communication and listening skills with those of the opposite sex, it is helpful to keep this in mind and refrain from being the problem solver when all that’s really needed is a good listener.

Consider this: Josh and Ariella were chatting about their day over dinner.

“Work was draining today,” Ariella told Josh. “Stacy couldn’t come in today, she was sick, and only Emma was available to unpack the new shipment. Between organizing everything that came in, manning the register, and being on top of everything else, it took everything out of me.” Josh responded, “Why didn’t you call my sister to come and help you? She said you could always rely on her to step in when you need an extra hand in the store.”

While Josh meant well and was trying to be helpful in thinking of a solution that could have made Ariella’s day easier, there was a sense of disconnect in the conversation. Ariella was sharing her feelings. She was not asking Josh to problem-solve with her. If this conversation has taken place first thing in the morning, when Stacy called out sick, this idea could in fact have been helpful to Ariella. What Ariella was describing, however, was something that had already occurred and her lack of help was not the primary message she was trying to convey.

When we jump to being a problem solver too early in a conversation or at the wrong point in the context of a situation we leave the there person feeling misunderstood and emotionally isolated.

A connection is built between individuals when the listener is paying attention and is able to give what is needed in the conversation. People want to be heard. When self-disclosure is met with a finetuned listening ear, relationships flourish.

Here’s the simple formula to implement to enhance listening skills and enable your relationships to flourish.

Step 1: Identify the emotion behind what the communicator is sharing with you beyond the anecdote or complaint
Step 2: Validate the emotion
Step 3: Reflect on the individual’s experience.

Listen; it’s worth a try.

Want more on related topics?

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