Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

One of the best things you can do for your partner, friends, and family is to truly listen to them. It’s a very special gift to give. Fortunately, if you start a search online, you can become a better listener and make someone feel heard.

We’ve compiled a few tips to help improve your listening skills. Even if you think you’re a pretty good listener already, it never hurts to re-examine your skills to see if there are any areas that need improvement.

Don’t just wait for your turn to talk

Many people fall into the trap of spending every conversation waiting to make their point. Even if you have a good comeback or pressing point you want to make, you need to be listening to whoever you’re talking to in order to remain a part of the conversation.

If you don’t listen to them, and spend the whole time simply preparing your next point, you’ll quickly come across as someone completely self-absorbed. Next time, really hear their opinion before offering your own in response.

Don’t relate every point back to yourself

Not every conversation has to be about you! Many people who do this truly do mean well. They think that their experience can help other people, so they’re eager to relate it. However, it’s important to listen to the other person before you jump in with how the situation relates to you.

Even if your situation does relate to them, your conversation partner will probably gain more from being able to express themselves to someone who is truly listening than they will if you just talk about your experience the whole time.

Listening can benefit you as well

There are definitely benefits to being a good listener. The more we focus on understanding those around us, the more our loved ones will pick up on that and want to support us by listening as well. The more we understand those around us, the more we can help and support them.

Don’t fall into the habit of tuning out your spouse or friend just because you have conversations that are frequently similar. By always staying alert, we can ensure that we’re tuned in to even the smallest changes in the lives of our loved ones.

Ask questions in order to better remember the conversation

One way to help yourself remember the small details of conversations is to keep asking questions. This way, you’ll ensure that you remain an active participant in the conversation.

Asking questions also helps you remember more of the conversation than normal. Asking questions forces you to reframe what they said in your own words, and can be super helpful in making your conversation partner feel validated and affirm that you’re really interested in what they’re saying.

Maintain eye contact

Maintaining regular eye contact is a way of checking in with the person you’re conversing with, and making sure that they’re doing ok. If you’re continually looking away, or constantly glancing up at other people and other things, it will be hard for your conversation partner to know that you’re truly listening to them.

Infrequent eye contact projects disinterest, boredom, and impatience. Regular eye contact makes people feel that you’re truly present in the conversation.

Don’t check your phone

A smartphone is a blessing in so many ways, but the biggest way it can be a curse is by being a distraction from people right in front of us. A smartphone loaded up with all the latest social media apps will usually be pinging and lighting up on a regular basis. It can be very distracting if it’s right in front of you while you’re trying to have a conversation.

Next time you meet up with a friend or you’re hanging out with your partner at home, put away your phone to ensure you won’t be distracted.

Reflect their words back to them

A way that you can reassure your conversation partner that you’re really listening to them is by reflecting their words back to them. This can be in the form of a question, such as “Oh no, it sounds like your son is having a really hard time at school.” Or it can be in the form of a question, like “So, you’re saying that you’ve closed that account permanently?”

By using their words, you’re ensuring that you’re understanding the conversation completely while also letting the other person know that you’re paying attention.

Be honest about your ability to listen in that moment

There are a lot of times when we get a phone call from a good friend or our spouse, and we just aren’t able to listen to them well in that moment. Maybe you’re going through a hard time yourself, or maybe it’s as simple as your kids just got home and they’re running all over the house making noise.

The next time someone asks you to listen to them and you’re busy, don’t try to do everything at once. Reassure them that you’d love to talk to them, but you’re just not able to give them your full attention at the moment. They’ll appreciate your full attention at a later date more than a fraction of your attention immediately.

If you still don’t understand, ask for clarification

A lot of people feel uncomfortable asking clarifying questions in the middle of a conversation because they worry that they’ll appear ignorant or look like they weren’t paying attention. To be a better listener, it’s important to feel comfortable asking questions. It’s the only way you’ll get the information that you need.

Not everyone communicates in the same way, and if you don’t get the precise meaning of what someone is saying, it’s much better to ask then to just assume you know what they mean.

Move while you’re talking

Many times, the most valuable conversations are had when both parties are a little bit distracted by something else, such as driving or exercise. Every parent knows that the best time to have a tough conversation with a kid is in a moving car. It gives both parties an excuse to look away from each other, which can help encourage freer speech.

This trick works with hard conversations between peers as well. Silences are much less awkward when both parties are occupied with another activity. And it doesn’t have to be a car. A good time to catch up with friends can be during a jog or at the gym.

Ask permission before giving advice

Assuming that most of us are well meaning people, it can be hard not to want to give advice. We want to help our friends as much as we can, and if we think our experiences can bring wisdom to the situation, we don’t think twice before sharing our stories.

However, this can be harmful if the person is trying to work out the situation on their own, or if they feel like you’re trying to force them into a certain viewpoint. The only way to avoid this is to ask whether they want your advice, and if they say no, then calmly keep your opinions to yourself.

Notice what goes unspoken as much as what is said out loud

It can be telling to see what people leave out of conversations. For example, if a person is talking about their family, but completely leaves out an important figure like their mother or father.

This can often be a sign that the relationship or situation is troubled, and should be brought up extremely carefully. Paying attention and noting what the person leaves out of the conversation can be a good way of getting to know them better.

Project empathy and kindness with your body language

It’s important to let your conversation partner know that you’re listening to them with your body language as well as your words. A relaxed, open posture invites people to share with you. Crossing your arms or rolling your eyes can make a person feel like you don’t actually want to be listening to them.

Know when to interrupt

The only time you should ever interrupt someone is if you feel like what they’re saying is emotional and could hurt someone. In those situations, the best course of action is often cutting them off before they say something you know they’ll regret. In the long run, it’s the most loving and kind thing you can do.

Jordana Weiss