Everyone thinks they’re a good listener. You might nod your head when someone is talking, practice presence by keeping good eye contact, or not interrupt someone when they’re making a point (even when you disagree). But we don’t want to be just “good”, do we?
Being a great listener goes so far beyond simply holding space for someone without scrolling your Instagram feed at the same time (which is what half of you “good” listeners do at the dinner table…). It goes beyond simply not talking over people, raising your voice, or pretending to be interested.
Being a great listener, to us, means practicing (at least) the following three things:
1) Engage in the conversation itself
Be curious. Ask questions. This shows you actually care about what the person is saying, not just opening your ears to let the noise in. We find it helpful to pretend (to yourself) you are helping the other person arrive at an even clearer conclusion to their point; what kinds of thought provoking, fair, honest questions could you ask to help them out?
Better yet, what can you learn from the conversation? What other viewpoints are being expressed that challenge your own? When do you notice yourself inching closer to the end of your seat, ready to bite back? Or maybe you find yourself readily agreeing to everything just to avoid any friction, even though you disagree?
2) Don’t offer a solution (unless you are asked for one)
You can help someone without both making the conversation about you or offering unsolicited advice. We are coaches by trade; this doesn’t come naturally or easily, trust us. Even if you feel you can help the other person, ask better questions rather than stand on a taller (soap)box. Yes, this takes more patience and more EQ, but your IQ won’t make up for sounding like an asshole telling someone else what to do.
3) Withhold expectations and judgment about the person talking
Your silence while waiting for the other person to finish speaking is not an opportunity to load the proverbial “logic gun” to fire (your opinion) back. This is called practicing “empathy.”
empəTHē/. noun. “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”(Oxford Languages)
See #2 above; leading with empathy before expecting the person you are listening to to agree with you or come around to your (foregone) conclusion is practicing better listening. In fact, given the chance, they may surprise you. This is especially true if their circumstances or belief systems are different from yours. Could you possibly be…misinformed?
Being a great listener means truly and honestly engaging in a conversation with someone without an expectation of the outcome. It’s empathetic curiosity played out in real time, giving happenstance to great conversation and potentially a moment of human connection.
The holidays are wonderful times to catch up; give your conversations a fair chance and develop your listening skills in the process.
Who knows, one of them might just help you have the best day ever.