Good listeners have more positive interactions and healthier relationships with others because their skills are a sign of respect and caring. Good listeners don't pretend that they understand a subject and ask for clarification through reflection until they comprehend the real message. This lessens misunderstanding that may be created through miscommunication or an insincere exchange of words.
One of the most productive forms of listening is empathetic listening, which is a technique that can help you manage and avoid disruptive and assaultive behaviors. In addition, it can help you have momentous bonds with people you encounter. When you give people the time to talk, you value them, and usually when people feel valued, their better side comes out. In addition, empathic listening can help you build trust and can encourage the other person to feel safe. When trust is build, the speaker's emotions and any information can come out to the surface naturally making empathic listening a useful tool for problem solving.
The foundation of empathic listening can be summarized in five simple steps.
1. Providing the speaker with your special attention. This is where multitasking or rapid refocus, or too many insincere small talks may get you in trouble. For example, if you are the type who asks someone how his day was and while he is talking you check your phone or text, it may give the message that you are pretending to care. In case that the speaker has your attention but goes too long where you feel like you're losing attention, you can gently let him know.
2. Being nonjudgmental. Let the person who is talking to you feel like he is being accepted by you, that you are not judging him, and that you see him as important. For example, try not to say things that minimize or trivialize the speaker's issue -- things like "this will be solved soon," "this will go away," "you will be okay," and "this is nothing" -- when the speaker is obviously stressed knowing that there is a real problem he is facing and wants to find solutions. Also, the best way to be nonjudgmental is to try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, you will be surprised how you may act if in their shoes.
3. Understanding the speaker. Emotions usually form the words. Look for the emotions. Is the person talking to you angry, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed or resentful? Try to see if you can connect with the emotions as well as the words. For example, ask questions like "How does it feel?" or tell the speaker you feel him.
4. Being silent. Don't feel you must say something immediately or at all. Often if you allow for some quiet after the speaker has voiced his thought, he may break the silence and come up with a solution he didn't thought of before talking to you. This is because insightful information sometimes comes out by the exchange of words and by feeling someone is observing us in a positive way. Remember, empathic listening is not about you, your need to show you know the answer, your need to interact or your need to look a certain way. It is about the speaker. Be your authentic self and that usually is picked up by the speaker more positively than anything insincere.
5. Declaring your understanding. Ask clarifying questions (open-ended) and do some reflection of how you understood the speaker's position. For example, say things like "From what I hear, you feel scared of the consequences of such and such... am I getting you right?" Or, "I can see how this is making you feel sad."
At the end, while you're working on becoming a better listener, don't forget that you need the same meaning that there are times when you need to be listened to. Make sure you have friends and acquaintances whom you can go to and speak your heart and mind out freely and openly without a feeling of being judged, feeling uncared for, being told what to do without you asking for it and being interrupted. And at the end, speaking and listening in moderation is a healthy balance that you may want to aim for to build connections and to become a good team worker and problem solver.
Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD