When is the last time you felt listened to? Truly heard – confident that the other person wanted to understand what you were trying to communicate?
Good communication takes time and skill: not just on the part of the talker, to express themselves clearly. It also depends upon the hearer, who can listen well or poorly.
Sometimes, we communicate to convey information, while other times we communicate to build up a relationship, to reveal an aspect of ourselves to another person.
Good listening, unlike speech, isn’t a skill that is really taught in schools or even in the home. Parents want children to listen, but that often just means “obey.” In adult life, listening isn’t often related to obedience, though. Adult relationships (and relationships with our children) require us to be truly present to another person: a difficult thing in our culture of constant technological distraction and perpetual multi-tasking.
So how do you know if someone has the skill set of listening? How do you know if you’re a good listener? Here are 7 signs to look for.
||ONE|| A good listener arrives without an agenda. They aren’t interested in giving you unsolicited advice or using the time to talk about themselves. In fact, they may frame the conversation by saying something like, “I’m here for you. If you want to brainstorm some solutions to your problem together, we can do that, or if you just need a shoulder to cry on, that’s ok too. Either way, I’m happy to just listen.”
||TWO|| A good listener shows they are listening. Their body language is evidence of their interest: they aren’t distracted, they look at you when you’re talking, and they aren’t trying to complete some other task at the same time. (Of course, for some people talking is a lot easier when both parties are engaged in a simple activity: painting a wall, colouring, driving in a car. A good listener will take their cue from the talker.)
||THREE|| A good listener doesn’t interrupt. They know that they might be able to say something helpful later, but the main point is simply to listen, rather than speak. A good listener understands the power of a nod or “uh-hum” at the right time.
||FOUR|| A good listener allows for silence. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate clearly. Sometimes our bodies take a while to catch up to our brains, and sometimes we just need silence to figure out what we want to say. A good listener doesn’t hurry anyone out of silence into speech.
||FIVE|| But a good listener does ask good questions – questions that show they have been listening and want to help. Often they ask the kinds of questions that aid the talker to think more clearly about their own situation, and therefore speak and act with intention and confidence. Good questions help you break out of the closed circle of thought in your own head.
||SIX|| A good listener is quick to show empathy. Empathy is feeling with someone. It means putting yourself in their shoes to the extent that you are able. A good listener tries to identify with the talker, showing that they are attuned to the person’s emotional state. (NB: Emotions are immediate reactions: we don’t decide to feel them, we decide what to do once we’ve had them. A good listener knows that part of deciding on a healthy course of action involves letting feelings be what they are.)
||SEVEN|| A good listener is slow to reassure. This may sound counterintuitive, since we’ve all had moments when we need to be reassured that everything will be ok. But if it comes immediately, we can end up feeling like the listener is steam rolling past our difficulties without pausing to affirm how we feel. Reassurance should only come once the talker has been able to fully express all that’s going on, and the listener has shown empathy.