How to be a Better Listener
When someone needs you in their corner, it’s important to show them that their feelings are valid. If they are feeling down, it is tempting to respond with sympathy and tales of our own experiences with issues similar to the ones they are currently experiencing. However, this isn’t the best way to listen —listening requires many more skills than we think. Whether a friend, partner or colleague/employee, read on to find out how to become a better listener.
Don’t offer someone advice before it is asked for. Giving advice is a reflection of your own experiences and feelings, and isn’t conducive to being a good listener.
People don’t always want to see the positive in a situation —they may simply need you to be there while they experience the negatives and the dark places. Cheering them up is a distraction technique and isn’t a healthy way of facing situations and dealing with difficult events. Offer a safe place in which they can express their sadness, anger and fear.
Don’t be afraid to stay silent. Your presence and calmness can allow them the space they need to vent and talk. Let them know you are listening by engaging with your body language —lean forward, look at themnwhile they are talking and do not distract them. When you need to speak, speak softly, and show understanding rather than pity.
If the person experiencing difficulties is an employee, it can be difficult for them to express themselves calmly; they may get louder as they become more annoyed or distressed by the situation. If this is the case, offer them time to talk; often, people behave aggressively because they feel nobody is listening. Focus on what they are saying and, if appropriate, ask questions to clarify particular points. Try to word your responses in a non-confrontational way, and help them understand you are listening by quoting what they have said back to them.
A good way to ensure you are listening well is to ask yourself if you are accepting and supporting someone else’s feelings. It is easy to deny that others are feeling something, particularly if we feel we would react differently. Remember that listening is for someone else’s benefit and your feelings about them, or the situation they are in, are irrelevant.