Great Listeners

They listen. Sorry do you feel like I wasted your time? I hope not. Because even though I gave the one technique that separates great listeners from the rest, many people still have no clue about what it means to listen. I have been in conversations with many people who tout, “I am a great listener,” but the minute you start talking, you quickly change your mind.

Great Listeners Do Not Talk About Themselves

 Duh. I know I know pretty straightforward right? Yet people break this rule all the time, so it needs repeating. Think about the last conversation that you were in that just irritated you. You were going through something that you needed to talk about with a friend. The conversation may have started out something like this, “I had a really rough week…” and before you can even get into describing your rough week, the so-called listener starts, “I had a really rough week too…blah blah blah.”

 The person who needed to be listened to then ends up being the one to listen; talk about an annoying role reversal. Get out of the, “Me too syndrome.” Yes, you may have had the same problem but this is not the time to share it! This is the time to listen. Don’t get me wrong, great listening skills do require some form of rapport building but don’t hijack your friend’s problem and make it your own. Basically, your telling the person that their problem is not a big deal, not worth listening to, and that in fact your problem one-ups anything they have to say. Is this the message you want to send?

 Great Listeners Engage In Reflection

 What do I mean by reflection? Well, have you ever been sharing a problem with someone and there is dead silence…hello…anyone there, are you hearing me or what?! Frustrating isn’t it? This is why reflection is important. Simple reflective phrases like, “uh huh,” “yeah,” “okay,” nodding of the head, or summarizing what the person just said to you is very important. You are letting the person know that you have not zoned out but are fully engaged in what they are saying. But simple reflection is great but still not enough. For example, ever discussed a problem with someone who all they did was reflect?

 You: “So I had an argument with my co-worker and it got out of hand,”

 Other Person: “Okay...”

 You: “We got along really well and now I don’t know how to approach her, what should I do?”

Other Person: “Okay...”

 You: “Are you even listening to me?”

 Other Person: “Okay...”

 I think you know what is wrong with this picture. Reflection isn’t a mere repeating of stock words at timed intervals.

 Great Listeners Are Observant of Emotional Cues

 This simply means that you are taking stock of the person’s body language. Someone may be talking to you about their problem but then quickly brush it off and say they are okay. Are they okay? Do they still look angry or sad? Do they look teary eyed? Are their arms folded?  Are they frantically running their fingers through their hair? Are they holding their head in despair? These are cues to look out for. Ensure that their body language matches what they are discussing. Don’t be afraid to probe or point out discrepancies in body language and what is being said. Your objective is to be helpful, not to encourage destructive behavior.

 Great Listeners offer or Probe for Solutions

 I know a lot of people shy away from doing this, for some reason people don’t like offering up advice or solutions. But most of the time when someone comes to you with a problem it is because they; need to get it off their chest, need an emotional boost or they need a solution as nothing they tried has worked. Yet, many people leave these types of conversations still feeling helpless. You can be the one to break the chain. A great way to do this is to probe the other person to think about what should be done.  Ask questions like:

  • If someone were in your exact situation what advice would you give?
  • What would the ideal situation look like, how do you think you can get there?
  • What obstacles are you facing? How can you remove them?

 If for some reason the person is stuck or is feeling too overwhelmed to offer solutions, this would be the only good time to offer your own experiences and how you got through them. Keep your experience brief, talk about what you learned, and what strategies you used to get through. Focus on finding a solution for the individual, rather than using it as an opportunity to rant about your problems.

 Great Listeners Make The Other Person Feel At Ease

 There is no rule that says you have to be serious and stone cold when someone comes to you with a problem. Sometimes people just need to feel at ease, whether at the beginning of the discussion or during. Tell a joke, make the person laugh, talk about something that you both have in common that does not necessarily deal with the problem at hand. As long as you rein it back in to the problem being discussed and don’t get carried away. This is very important as some people take this to the extreme, you don’t want the person to walk away feeling like they had fun but accomplished nothing. The individual will be grateful to take a short break from what is bothering them, but will appreciate you even more if you were still able to make them feel restored. In the words of the Dark Knight, “Why So Serious?”     

 Great Listeners Make You Feel Restored When You Are Done Talking To Them

 When you have had the opportunity to talk to someone who really listens, you walk away feeling much better than when you entered the conversation. Great listeners have the ability to encourage and boost your esteem by:

  • Offering solutions and therefore eliminating the feeling of helplessness
  • Make you feel in control by allowing you to provide your own solutions
  • By allowing you to vent your frustrations and problems
  • By reframing the situation so that it does not appear as bad as you thought

For you, what traits do good listeners possess? Leave a comment below.