Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
How To Be A Better Listener
Published Oct 14th, 2020 & updated on Dec 7th, 2021
We’re all guilty of this at some point: your friend is telling you a story about something that happened. At first, you’re listening intently like the good friend that you are. But then you get distracted. Your phone lights up with a new text. Your mind starts to wander and suddenly you’re thinking about where you should order takeout tonight. Maybe butter chicken? No, you had that a few nights ago. You know it’s rude but you can’t help it…you reach for your phone to see what it says. Maybe it’s an emergency, you tell yourself. Before you can read it, you realize you’re being an asshole. Didn’t you say you were going to learn how to be a better listener this year??
Meanwhile, you’ve missed 80% of your friend’s story. And now they’re looking at you – waiting for you to chime in. There’s an ahhhh shit moment. You have zero idea what they have just said, and you’re about to look like the Worst. Friend. Ever.
It happens. It’s not that you don’t care about what your friend is sharing with you. It’s just that you’ve got a lot on your mind! But here’s the thing: we all want and deserve to be heard.
So how can we become better listeners? Here are some easy tips.
1. Minimize Distractions
Look, phones are great. We love our phones. They keep us connected to what’s happening literally all over the entire world 24/7. But what about when someone is right in front of you and they’re telling you about how their job is stressing them out and they really, really need to rant about it for a minute… or 10?
Constantly checking notifications during a conversation makes it seem like you’re not interested in what the other person has to say. And being on the receiving end of that, sucks. So keep your phone on silent and face down – it can wait!
2. Take A Pause
Sometimes we get so caught up with what we want to say next in a conversation, that we don’t really hear what the other person is saying. After someone shares something with you, allow a second of pause. Instead of trying to finish their sentence or offer up advice (also, did they even ask for advice?) give the other person a chance to finish their thought.
Think about it. When you’re sharing something with another person, how frustrating can it be when they keep interrupting? Sure, it’s probably not on purpose. But it may feel like they aren’t really listening to you. Let the person speaking have the spotlight!
3. Ask More Questions
One of the best ways to show that you’re really listening to someone is by asking them questions. Obviously, we wanna be genuine here – don’t ask something completely unrelated to the conversation. Instead, ask for more details on that passive aggressive comment their sister made over Thanksgiving. Throwing in something like: “That was a shitty thing to say to you! How did you feel about it?” shows that you’re paying attention. They’ll appreciate your interest and feel like you truly care!
4. Validate Their Feelings
If someone is sharing their inner cluster-fuck of thoughts and feelings with you, validate them. By adding comments like: “I appreciate you sharing that with me, that must have been hard” or “I understand why that really upset you” you’re acknowledging that their feelings matter. All we need sometimes is a little validation!
5. Be Patient
We all have that friend or family member who can talk for daysss. But if they’re telling you something that is clearly important to them, just be patient. If you’re actually in a hurry, ask if you can continue talking about it later so they don’t feel cut off.
6. Share Your Perspective (At The Right Time)
This can be a tricky one. Offering advice or your own take on someone else’s situation can be really helpful – but only if they want it. Sometimes it makes us feel less alone when people share their similar experiences. But other times, we just want a good rant session (okay, a lot of the time).
Before you offer up your hot take, ask the other person if they want to hear it first! Try saying something like: “I have totally been there. Do you want my advice?” Or: “I think I have a suggestion – are you okay with hearing it?” It shows respect for their personal boundaries.
7. Show Interest And Do It Genuinely
Sometimes we think we already know everything about someone. It’s easy to tune out the people in our lives if we start to think: “Meh, I’ve probably heard this before” or “I already know what they’re gonna say.” Try to listen like there’s more to learn – they might surprise you!
8. Be Honest
If you keep zoning out because you have a lot on your mind, be honest! It’s okay to admit when you’re stressed and you just can’t focus. Apologize and let the other person finish their piece, or respectfully ask if you guys can chat when you’re in a better headspace. Give your full attention when you can, and they’ll return the favour when it’s your turn to vent!
Listening can be tough. It might take some practice, but it’s definitely a skill that’s worthwhile. Your relationships will come out stronger than ever! And chances are, your good habits will rub off on those around you.