How to Be a Genuinely Good Listener

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Kelaher suggests phrases like, “If I’m hearing you correctly…” and “If I’m getting this right…” For example, “So if I’m understanding, this promotion has been way more stressful than you anticipated?” Then, once you summarize and ensure you’re on the same page, you can add some validation, too. “Ugh, it’s so tough when something you were pumped about turns out differently than you expected.”

On the other hand, don’t fake it if you’re not sure what’s at the crux of what they’re telling you. Instead, ask for clarification. As for how…

3. Ask simple, open-ended questions.

You may feel the need to ask really insightful or detailed follow-up questions, whether to prove you’ve been listening or flex your prowess as a conversational partner. But actually, some of the most effective things you can say as a listener are pretty simple. “Maintaining a sense of curiosity is key,” Kelaher says. It can help you zero in on what’s important to the other person—and keep you from jumping to conclusions.

Kelaher and Houston both recommend some variation of: “Tell me more.” You can switch it up to be more specific, like “Tell me more about how you were feeling when X thing happened” or “Can you help me understand what Y experience brought up for you?” Whatever helps them expand on what they’re saying—and increases your own comprehension.

4. Don’t rehearse your replies while they’re talking.

It’s tempting—when someone you care about shares a problem or vulnerability, it’s natural to want to say the “right” thing. Not to mention, research shows that people tend to think faster than they talk, so it’s no wonder our thoughts pile up before our convo partner finishes speaking. But if you’re busy formulating your own response, you can’t actually pay attention to what they’re saying. “We spend too much time in our own heads instead of being present in the conversation, which is a core component of active listening,” Kelaher says.

The next thing you know, you’re focused on finding an opening for your prepared response, which means you’re listening even less. And realistically, the other person will likely pick up on cues that your mind is elsewhere. Speaking of…

5. Watch your body language and eye contact.

“So much of communication is nonverbal,” according to Kelaher. “Are you looking in their eyes? What is your body posture like? Are you facing one another?” These small cues can be the difference between signaling “open and understanding” and “closed off and disconnected, she says.” I’m sure you can guess which one of those is preferable for this whole active listening thing.

That said, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to look and act a certain way, lest you become more preoccupied with performing as a good listener than actually being one. ​​”Not everybody shows up in the same way to conversations,” says Houston, noting that some folks have trouble with eye contact, sitting still, and other nonverbal cues for a variety of reasons including neurodivergence. “That doesn’t mean you’re not capable of providing a warm empathic presence in your own way.”

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