Do you REALLY listen to others? We’re not always listening as well as we could. Learn how to be a good listener to your kids, friends, family and colleagues.
Don’t you hate it when you’re having a conversation and the other person has already responded before you’ve finished your sentence? Or when you’re talking to someone and she interrupts to say something completely unrelated?
These are the signs of bad listening, and I admit, I’ve been guilty more than once. Listening is one of the most overlooked yet necessary skills we all could improve. Whether talking with your kids, your partner or friends and family, here are ways you can be a good listener.
How to be a good listener:
Don’t show any signs that you’re about to respond
We’ve all got great points to make, especially when bouncing ideas from one another. We just want to squeeze our points before we forget what to say, or the conversation veers to another topic. All are compelling reasons to want to interrupt and make your point. But doing so shows that you’re less interested in the other person’s thoughts than your own.
I’m not talking words, either. Don’t make gestures or facial expressions that show you’ve tuned out and are ready to respond. Simply listen. It’s hard—especially when people ramble—but if it’s their turn to talk, let them.
Find a good opportunity to make your point. Or if it’s a one-sided conversation (and it’s not supposed to be), then excuse yourself. But don’t jump in when the other person hasn’t finished yet.
Wait a few seconds before responding
Author Dan Pink suggests this exercise in his latest book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others:
In your next 5 conversations, take listening to an extreme. Every time another person says something, wait 5 seconds before responding. Seriously. Every time. It will seem odd at first. And your conversation partner might wonder if you were recently bonked on the head. But pausing a few additional seconds to respond can hone your listening skills in much the same way that savoring a piece of chocolate, instead of wolfing it down, can improve your palate.
If not five seconds, pause for a beat or two after the person finishes speaking before you respond. You ensure they truly are finished and that you’ve listened to and focused on everything they say. You’re less inclined to think of the next thing to say and less likely to interrupt.
Don’t be a devil’s advocate
Your friend wants to vent about work to shake the frustration off her shoulders. She doesn’t need to hear what might be going through her boss’ head. Or to imagine what could have led her boss to act that way. Or worse, that what your friend did that could have made that her boss act that way.
Point being: just let your friend vent. She doesn’t need to hear opinions, much less you sticking up for her boss. She just needs you to be a good listener.
Plus, you don’t want your loved ones to question your support and loyalty. If your friend feels like you’re on everyone else’s side but hers, she might resent your lack of support.
Don’t solve other people’s problems
Here was one of my big light bulb moments: I assumed people wanted and found my advice useful. Turns out offering advice is almost always pointless. How many times have you told a friend to leave a terrible boyfriend yet only to see her stay in the relationship?
And vice versa: many of us have tuned out our friends’ advice and only took action when we decided to. Advice—however well-meaning and right—doesn’t work until we’re ready to make that decision for ourselves.
To be a good listener, offer support, not advice. Your friend’s life may be unstable like a storm in the sea, so be her anchor—the person she can rely on as her constant.
Or mirror what she has just said and offer descriptive reflections. Let’s say your friend says, “I’m pissed off at this dead-end job, my coworkers annoy me and I hate the work.” You can respond with, “You seem upset with work. What do you think you can do about it?” instead of the tempting advice of, “If I were you, I would just quit and look for a new job.”
Stay on the subject (and don’t be distracted)
I was talking to someone and, mid-sentence, she looks elsewhere and says, “Oh, look at that baby!” Talk about being interrupted and not being listened to. This seems like a given, but it still amazes me how often this occurs (and yes, I’ve been guilty!).
Pass no judgment
Even if a friend is complaining about a loser partner, keep your opinions to yourself. Believe it or not, it may actually hurt her to hear others call her partner a jerk. Imagine saying “What a spoiled kid!” to a friend complaining about her child’s antics.
I’m still trying to perfect the art of listening. My biggest demon right now is listening and not jumping in with my opinions, answers or rebuttals. The world won’t end if it doesn’t hear the “I absolutely have to say this!” thoughts brewing in my head.
Get more tips:
- Are You Asking Open Ended Questions or Squashing Conversation?
- How to Practice Mindful Parenting
- Bad Parenting Habits We Need to Break
- How to Build a Close Relationship with Your Child
- How to Get Your Child to Listen to You
Do you find yourself guilty of being a bad listener from time to time? What are some of your tips on being a good listener?
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