Listening is more than simply hearing. It’s about giving people your full attention, giving them space to speak, and actively trying to understand their perspective. Good listening skills can help you be a better friend and partner, a more supportive colleague, help you avoid misunderstandings, and deal with conflict in a healthy way. Listening is also a skill that you can get better at with practice!
Why being a good listener matters
Build strong relationships
Strong relationships – whether friendships, romantic, or workplace – are built on a foundation of trust and respect. When you listen well, you show the other person that you care about what they have to say and respect them enough to pay attention.
Good listening helps you bond, get to know someone on a deeper level, and offer emotional support when the other person needs it. Modelling good listening also encourages others to follow your example so they’re there to listen well to you when you need them.
Avoid and resolve conflict
By listening well you learn to understand the other person’s perspective. When both people listen actively and attentively, there are fewer misunderstandings which can help to avoid conflicts due to miscommunication.
Conflict is inevitable in life, but good listening skills can help resolve disputes peacefully. Showing that you’re listening to the other person’s point of view and not just waiting for your chance to speak your mind can de-escalate tense situations. It’s also easier to find common ground and find a suitable resolution when you’re both hearing each other properly.
Personal growth and development
It’s natural for your thoughts and ideas to change as you go through life and experience new things. By listening to others and considering their ideas and experiences, you can broaden your horizons and gain a deeper understanding of the world around you.
You might hear something that challenges your own assumptions, or that helps you understand a concept in a new way. Listening can help you learn new things and benefit from the knowledge and experience of the people you interact with.
How to be a good listener
Being a good listener takes practice and awareness. There are a few key ways to be a better listener and actively show that you care about what others have to say.
Give your full attention – put away distractions like phones or other devices and turn your full attention on the person speaking. Maintaining eye contact shows that you’re engaged and interested in the conversation.
Avoid interrupting and allow silences – Let the other person finish their thought before starting your own. Particularly when listening to someone who’s opening up about emotional topics, allow silences to give them space to think and say more.
Practice active listening – This means paying close attention to what the other person is saying in order to fully understand the message. Avoid thinking about what you’re going to say next while the other person is still talking, and really focus on what they’re trying to convey.
Ask open-ended questions – Open-ended questions encourage more than a one-word answer, helping the other person open up more. “How did you feel about that?” or, “Can you tell me more about that?” are good examples of open-ended questions.
Confirm your understanding - Sometimes it’s helpful to repeat back what the person speaking has just said to check your understanding and avoid miscommunication. This also shows that you’ve been paying attention, and helps you clarify their meaning for yourself.
Be aware of body language – Listening to the words is important, but people communicate so much with their body language too. For example, they might offer cues that suggest they feel uncomfortable, or that they have more to say but perhaps need a little encouragement to open up.
Avoid being a fixer – It’s really tempting to try and solve other people’s problems, particularly when it’s someone you care about, however, avoid offering advice unless it’s asked for. Sometimes people just need to talk it out, and offering solutions can put pressure on them or can feel frustrating. Try listening without judgment, and ask if they would like your advice before offering it.
Practicing being a good listener can help in so many areas of your life. Good listeners are often trusted more and have deeper, more meaningful connections with the people around them. Listening well can also help you develop a deeper understanding of the world and grow professionally and personally. It takes some practice to hone your listening skills, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
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