We’ve all met good listeners. They’re the folks who grasp the gist of what we’re saying, then invite us to tell them more.
Good listeners make us feel safe when we’re in their presence. Our innermost feelings are accepted. Privacy is protected. Judgments are left at the doorway. Communication and relationships blossom.
Good listeners aren’t born. Rather, they’ve honed their listening skills to perfection. But they do have 11 secrets that each of us can master:
1. Good listeners make eye contact. Looking at the speaker helps them tune into the content of the message. It also says, “I’m interested in what you have to say.” If the speaker is a child, they bend down to his or her level.
2. They stop other activities while they’re listening. They put down their cellphones and turn off the television. Such actions demonstrate how much they value the speaker and encourage further dialogue.
3. They pay close attention. They follow the action, details and characters of the speech. If necessary, they occasionally ask for clarifying details. But most often they allow the dialogue to unfold at its own pace.
4. They determine the speaker’s mood. Is he happy? Frustrated? Is she worried? Scattered? They secretly sum it up in one word to grasp the emotional tone.
5. They seldom share their experiences. They understand that listening isn’t about them. Most people aren’t interested in someone else’s experience, and relating it diverts attention away from the speaker. Great listeners save their own stories for a later time.
6. They don’t offer advice. Speakers want to share, vent or process their feelings. They’re generally not looking for outside intervention. Great listeners keep suggestions to themselves unless they’re specifically asked.
7. They avoid interrupting. Interruptions tell the speaker, “I have something more important to discuss.” Great listeners allow speakers to continue until they’re finished.
8. They ask appropriate follow-up questions. Questions demonstrate interest, keep listeners engaged and teach them more about the situation. But great listeners use them sparingly; too many questions can quickly devolve into an interrogation, putting speakers on the defensive.
9. They reflect back what the speaker is saying. Reflecting is the act of summarizing and repeating the speaker’s words; for instance, “You don’t know what to do next. It’s all so confusing.” It assures great listeners that their observations are accurate. Or it gives speakers a chance to correct wrong assumptions: “No, I know what to do next. I just don’t like my options.”
10. They use simple responses to summarize the conversation. They may try nonverbal reactions, such as smiles or hugs. Or they say one- or two-word phrases: “Yippee,” “Aww,” “Oh dear.” Their goal is to convey sincerity, support and concern. Excessive verbiage dilutes that message.
11. They accept silence. Communication naturally has periodic pauses. Speakers mull over thoughts. They take breaks. They absorb what others have said. Great listeners are comfortable when no one is speaking. They let the speaker decide when to resume.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.