Most people believe they are good listeners. They think that they are listening in the proper way by sitting quietly while someone is talking, or by responding through body language and facial expressions, or by repeating what the other person told them word for word.
But a study from Wright State University involving 8,000 participants revealed that only 25 percent of people listen effectively. Apparently, good listeners do more than just sit quietly, elicit non-verbal reactions, or repeat what has been said accurately. Here are some things that good listeners do differently than the rest.
Here Are 7 Things Good Listeners Do Differently
“Good listeners, like precious gems, are to be treasured.” – Walter Anderson
1. Good listeners create a safe environment for the other person
Many professionals in the field of counseling and therapy utilize active listening skills to communicate with their patients in the best way. Active listening enables a good listener to pay attention to another person, show acceptance, and be emphatic to their situation.
It is very important to be focused as an active listener. But more than paying close attention, good listeners also try to create a safe environment for the other person who might want to unload their emotions. So, good listeners prefer to have conversations in a quiet area, without any distractions or interruptions like phones and other gadgets. They also make sure that they are seated comfortably next to the speaker.
Deep conversations can be heavy, complex, and quite difficult to reveal. They can evoke pain, irritation, and discomfort. But good listeners know they need to be comfortable with what may be uncomfortable. They also have to let the other person feel positive in that they can safely open up, drop down their guard, and freely talk about their feelings.
2. Good listeners maintain eye contact
Eye contact is a vital part of communication. It conveys your interest in the conversation and establishes your connection to the person you are conversing with. But maintaining eye contact can be difficult and uncomfortable for some people. In fact, others may experience eye contact anxiety and avoid looking intently at someone during a conversation.
It’s also easy to make an embarrassing mistake when you are maintaining eye contact. You can either become distracted and immediately look away or stare too long at the other person and look like a stalker.
According to Michigan State University, it takes a lot of practice to learn how to maintain eye contact. Because at least 70 percent of your conversation will involve eye contact, rehearsing interactions in front of the mirror can be helpful.
To avoid any mistakes when making eye contact, you should:
- Establish eye contact the moment you are in a conversation with someone.
- Hold your gaze for four to five seconds, then take a glance to the side before re-establishing the eye contact.
- Slowly look away from side-to-side without darting your eyes or immediately glancing at another focus.
- Avoid looking down.
- Look for other spots in the person’s face and refocus on this every few seconds.
- Use head gestures to break your gaze, such as nodding, so that it will look more natural.
If you’re speaking to more than one person, you can still establish eye contact by looking at one person for a few seconds before shifting your gaze to another person. Make sure that you give equal focus to everyone in the group.
3. Good listeners use body language well
Aside from eye contact, good listeners use positive body language to convey their interest in the other person’s issues. This technique makes them more receptive and approachable, and shows they are better communicators. Some examples of effective body language techniques that good listeners convey include:
- Nodding their head to show they are responsive and engaged in the conversation.
- Tilting their head to show curiosity and involvement in what the speaker is saying.
- Leaning in when someone is talking to show interest.
- Being aware of their hands, mouth, and facial expressions; they smile, raise eyebrows, or cringe their eyes when responding.
- Mirroring the other person’s expressions or posture as a gesture of agreement and to build a rapport.
- Uncrossing their cross their arms or legs when the other person is talking to convey openness.
- Removing any barrier across them like a desk or a bag.
- Resisting the urge to fidget; keeping their fingers and hands under control.
Showing the right body language helps keep the conversation calm, especially when you’re discussing a sensitive issue with a friend or a family member. It will help defuse a tense situation.
4. Good listeners probe and ask the right questions
Asking questions allows good listeners to uncover additional information. It helps the person sharing something to be more elaborate and to explore their feelings. It seeks to provide clarity to what’s really going on and enable reflection that may greatly help the person dealing with an issue.
At the same time, good listeners know to avoid questions that may put the other person on the defensive. They don’t ask questions to pry or encroach and sow intrigues. Instead, they probe because they hope to help resolve the issue, provide a better understanding of what’s really going on, uncover reasons or evidence, analyze some assumptions, and look at a different perspective.
Some of the most effective questions to ask may be:
- Why do you think he/she said that?
- Could you give an example of [the issue]?
- Can you think of reasons…?
- Can someone confirm or support your view?
- What do you think [the issue] implies?
- How does [the issue] relate to those involved?
- What effect would this issue have on those concerned?
- How might he/she respond?
- Do you think there are alternatives?
Good listeners know how much people like to talk about themselves. Asking questions shows interest and also creates a conversation that won’t feel so one-sided.
5. Good listeners are not judgmental
The ability to listen actively and effectively takes practice but the ability to listen without judgment takes heart and character. The key to listening without judgment is empathy. It’s showing an understanding of what a friend is going through and then setting aside your own views and values to avoid becoming critical of his or her situation.
Every person has a bias and it’s this bias that may sometimes push you to have a closed mind on certain issues. In fact, we often tend to form an opinion even before a friend has finished confiding their problem.
But good listeners are different in that they don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions when hearing someone out. They have an open mind and accept what they hear or learn, even if this goes against what they believe.
Good listeners have a great grasp of another person’s reality. They are keenly aware that while what they hear and learn might be tough to process, it is somebody else’s situation that requires some help and guidance.
For instance, your best friend admits to you that she is cheating on her partner. You value loyalty and faithfulness in a relationship so you greatly disagree with what she did. But as much as you’re against this, you patiently sit down and closely listen to her issues. It might be tough to hear but showing empathy may eventually help her find the right solutions to her relationship problems.
As a good listener, you validate whatever your friend is emotionally going through even if you think it’s a mistake. You don’t necessarily support what she’s doing but you support what she’s feeling and try as much as you can to understand and get to the bottom of those emotions.