If you would like to have strong, solid, supportive and rewarding relationships with other people, listening well to what they have to say is one of the most important things you can do.
“Listening is important in building and maintaining relationships in any sphere of life,” said Divya Singh, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “As human beings, we all want to be heard. With active listening, people feel understood. And it helps decrease the chances of having conflicts.”
When you listen attentively, you show respect to the other person and build rapport with them. “Active listening is a valuable craft to possess as a professional and as a human being,” Dr. Singh said. Listening is a skill, and with attention and practice, you can improve it. Here are some tips to be a better listener.
Listen empathetically and try to imagine the situation from the other person’s point of view.
Even if you think you know what the other person will say, let them say it. When you interrupt, you shut down the opportunity for connection.
Maintain eye contact
Meeting the eyes of the person you are speaking with shows them that you are present in the conversation and helps you understand their emotions.
Repeat back what the person is trying to convey
Active listening should translate into an understanding of the person’s viewpoint. By sharing what you think they are saying, you can determine if your interpretation is accurate. You also show them that what they are saying is important.
Put your phone away and turn off the TV so you can fully focus on the other person. If you’re tired or preoccupied with your own thoughts, consider postponing the conversation to a time when you’re rested and better able to concentrate.
It’s okay if you disagree with someone, but your job as a listener is to try to understand them. Stay calm and try not to judge their thoughts or actions.
Ask thoughtful questions
Asking questions shows that you are paying attention and can help the other person rethink and reframe whatever they are trying to communicate.
Only offer solutions if you’re asked for them
When someone is sharing a problem, it’s tempting to jump in with a solution. But the person you’re speaking with may simply want to be heard. Unless they ask for your advice, it’s best to simply listen.
When you’re on a video call, mute yourself, so you’re more focused on listening. The act of turning your microphone on creates a pause, so you only speak when you have something meaningful to share.
Meditate or practice mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness can help you stay present in all kinds of situations, including conversations with others.
Be gentle with yourself
“Active listening sometimes doesn’t come easily, especially when we all want to be heard,” Dr. Singh said. And active listening can be mentally and physically taxing, so it’s easy to fall out of the habit. If you notice you’re not listening as well as you should, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again.
The bottom line
Listening well can improve your relationships in all areas of your life. “Listening helps in communication with others more than speaking. If we were all to listen more, our world would be a better place,” Dr. Singh said. If you would like more tips on listening well from a behavioral health professional, reach out to Banner Health.
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