05/18/2015 01:52 pm ET Updated May 18, 2016

5 Ways to Be a Better Listener

Shutterstock / AlexandreNunes

1. Avoid saying "I" and "me"

Empathizing is often our first reaction when someone comes to us with a problem or worry. "I went through the same thing!" or "For me it was really about..." are often said and easy to say, as how better to discuss a problem than through the lens of our own lives? However, saying "I" and "me" distracts the conversation from the person the discussion is really about, and also brings your mindset to yourself and away from your interlocutor.

2. Ask questions

Whenever you feel at a loss for what to say, or when your instinct is to give advice, try asking a question instead. Aim to understand, not respond. "How did that feel?", "what did you do next?", and "have you told anyone else yet?" are great ways to keep the conversation going and to make sure that your conversation partner knows you're listening and interested.

3. Validate

If someone is confiding in you, make sure they're comfortable doing so. Saying things like "It sounds like that was really difficult for you," or "Wow, you're really brave," will both make them know that you're really listening to them, and make them feel comfortable talking with you.

4. Don't look at your phone

We check our phones many, many times per day, whether it be to look at the time or a text message. Keep your attention fully on the person you're talking to by resisting the urge to check your phone. You'll be able to really focus on what they're saying, and send them the message that listening is the most important thing you're doing in that moment.

5. Show that you're listening

Use body language and small responses to show that you're engaged in the conversation and processing what is being said to you. Small nods, and saying "yes," and "right," will encourage the person you're speaking with to continue to talk, and shows that you are engaged in the conversation.