You can tell when someone is really listening to you. You can see it in the way they lean in or react to something you’ve said. You can hear it in their questions or what they say next. You know you’ve been heard, and it feels good.
You can also tell when someone isn’t listening to you — and that doesn’t feel good. Unfortunately, a “good listener” is hard to find these days. While you can’t change the way someone else listens, you can improve your own listening skills. And that may inspire others to do the same.
Good listening requires intention and attention. The intention part means actually being interested in the other person — their experiences, views, feelings, and needs. The attention part means being able to keep your focus on them, and remaining open to what they say — even if they don’t agree with your ideas.
Here are a few ways to start listening better.
- Check inside
As someone is talking, ask yourself, “Is anything getting in the way of my really listening to this person?” Maybe you’re thinking about something going on in your life. Maybe you have an issue with the person, so you’re looking at their body language. If there’s something there, name it. Then decide if you need to deal with it right away, or if it can wait.
- Extend yourself
Choose to listen fully and with interest and kindness. Then, practice.
- Notice your responses
Silently note any thoughts, feelings, judgments, or memories that come up. Just note them — don’t try to figure out what they mean or judge yourself for having them. Then bring your attention back to what the other person is saying.
- Listen actively
Show you’re listening by confirming what you’ve heard, using the other person’s words if you can. This helps the person to feel heard and understood.
- Ask and affirm
Use friendly questions if you don’t understand something that was said. Finally, acknowledge the other person’s point of view before introducing your own.