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10 Tips on Being A Great Listener – Time To Talk Day 2022

Listening is something that should come naturally to us and we mostly do it without thought.

It is however important to consider whether we are, actually, a good listener.

Cast your mind back to the last time you spoke to someone about something that was really troubling you. Whilst you know the person registered the words you were saying, did you come away from the conversation feeling heard? Did you feel you had their full attention and desire to understand? Hopefully you did, but you’ll certainly remember if you didn’t.

Effective listening is a skill which is simple to hone but can make a significant difference to both the speaker and the recipient.

Here are some simple tips on being a great listener that will help the other person really feel heard.

  • Remove as many distractions as possible. Choose a quiet place where you are unlikely to get disturbed or distracted. Turn phones on Do Not Disturb so that the conversation is not broken mid flow by a phone call or text popping through.
  • Make Time. Make sure you’ve got enough time to see the conversation through before you encourage the person to open up. Having to leave halfway through the conversation can leave the speaker feeling rejected and unsure. They might feel that you don’t care or that their problems don’t matter enough to be heard and avoid opening up in future. If someone tries to open up to you in a moment that you haven’t got enough time to see it through, be honest with them. Let them know that you want to hear what they have to say, but that you are busy right now and want to be able to listen to them properly. Find an alternative time that suits you both and keep to it.
  • Body Language. It’s widely accepted that nonverbal signals make up for a huge 55% of all communication, tone of voice accounts for 38% and the actual words we say a mere 7%. With this in mind, how we hold ourselves as we listen tells our speaker a lot about how their words are being received. If we’re looking around the room or at the floor the whole time they are speaking, we’re telling them that they are not our focus; whereas a natural amount of eye contact, without staring, will tell them that we’re engaged. Crossing our arms and legs and leaning away from them will tell them that we are uncomfortable or closed off from what they are saying; whereas open body language and facing them, perhaps leaning forward slightly, will tell them that we are attentive and interested. It’s hard when someone we know is in distress, it’s not always easy to be the listener and our body will naturally reflect that, but if we’re mindful of this we can make sure our nonverbal signals give our speaker the right message.
  • Clarify the conversation. When someone is in distress, their conversations can sometimes be disjointed and tricky to follow. They may be a bit muddled, jump from one topic to another or build a conversation on a thought they previously had but didn’t share. A lot of people think to be a good listener you mustn’t interrupt and  let the speaker continue but there is a danger of key facts and emotions remaining lost. Gently interrupting the flow of words to clarify a point you’re unsure about actually tells the speaker that you are listening and that you want to understand. You are not sat passively letting the words wash over you but are actively working to comprehend where they are coming from and what has happened.
  • Summarising is important. Similar to clarifying, by briefly summarising what the person has told you every so often tells them that you have been paying attention, and that they have been heard.
  • Listen to hear. One of the hardest, but most important, habits to break is listening to reply. It’s natural and we all do it, but we can distract ourselves from what’s currently being said by thinking about our reply to what has just been said, meaning we miss the next bit. Shift your focus from listening to reply to listening to hear.
  • Don’t fix. Unless the person has asked you for advice, they may just need to vent their feelings to you, in which case it can be frustrating having possible solutions thrown at them. If you are unsure, you can always ask them if they are looking for solutions or simply need to let their feelings out, and then respond as appropriate.
  • Keep an open mind. Sometimes, when we are listening to someone, they will say things that we don’t agree with or understand. Perhaps their emotional response seems irrational or ‘over the top’; perhaps you don’t agree with their opinion or belief.  However, this person has allowed themselves to be vulnerable in opening up to you, which is no easy thing. It’s your job to remain non-judgemental and validate their feelings.
  • Be safe. If the speaker is a person you don’t know well, make sure the meeting place is somewhere neutral and that someone else knows where you are going. In the unlikely event that the person is in immediate risk of hurting themselves, stay with them and call 999 or take them to A&E. If they are having thoughts about hurting themselves but do not have current plans to do so, encourage them to speak to their doctor and perhaps signpost them to The Samaritans (Freephone 116123).
  • Set boundaries. It is important for both parties that you let the person know how much they can expect to lean on you and the times you can be available to them. You need to remove the risk of becoming overwhelmed yourself or facing the guilt of having to say no in a moment of them needing you. For them, there is safety in boundaries. They can therefore ask for your help knowing that they’re not overstepping the mark or becoming too reliant on you.

I hope these tips come in useful the next time your empathetic listening skills are called upon. Whilst you cannot take someone’s sadness or troubles away, there is profound power in being heard and understood, which is a gift you can give them.

Fay Bloor is a qualified counsellor and coordinates the Dandelions Bereavement Support Service on behalf of Wathall’s funeral directors.  For more information on the support and services available, please call Fay on 01332 345268 or email