How to be a good listener: How to compassionately listen in 6 easy steps

In a world where the average adult struggles to manage chronic information overload on a daily basis, it’s hard to take time to consider how to be a good listener. When was the last time you had a chance to take a step back from emailing, posting and talking and consider how you can be a more compassionate, active listener for your friends and family?

In a way, we are all more connected than we ever have been before:

However, at the same time, some say we are facing a “loneliness epidemic” in which all of this “connection” is actually making us lonelier. So are we really listening, or are we all just doing a whole lot of talking?

Research shows that most of us are only listening with 25 percent efficiency. We are probably all guilty of trying to watch the news, talk on the phone and check our email and text messages all at once! However, as some say, we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. We are wired to be great listeners and, with a little bit of practice, we can learn how to listen more efficiently.

We think it’s high time to disconnect for a second and reconsider the art of how to be a good listener. If you have a loved one who is going through a difficult time, practicing active and compassionate listening is a great way to help them.

We scoured the research on how to be a good listener and have compiled seven steps you can take next time someone someone asks if you can lend them your ear:

How to be a good listener in 6 easy steps

Tip: Print this list out and keep it handy the next time someone comes to you for support.

Tip: Print this list out and keep it handy the next time someone comes to you for support.

Be present

First, be sure to remove distractions. Step into another room. Put your phone on silent. Put everything down and give the person who is speaking to you your full attention.

This of course makes it easier for you to listen fully and prevent your mind from wandering, but it has another benefit, too. The person speaking will be able to sense that you are present, and in turn, will feel more safe and be better able to open up to you.

Ask a general question

Next, start the conversation by asking a general, leading question, such as:

  • How are you?
  • Last time we talked, I know you were feeling (enter feeling). How are you feeling now?
  • Tell me about how things are going?

When they start to answer, imagine how it must feel for them to open up to you. Appreciate their vulnerability, and let them talk for as long as they’d like.

Acknowledge

If you are talking on the phone, use words like “yes,” and “I see,” to let your friend know you are listening.

If you are talking on the phone, use words like “yes,” and “I see,” to let your friend know you are listening.

While they are speaking, show your loved one that you are listening:

  • If you are speaking in person: Show them that you are listening by nodding or leaning forward. You can give their hand a squeeze or put your hand on their shoulder to show empathy.
  • If you are speaking on the phone: Use words like “yes,” “I see,” and “I hear you” to let them know that you are listening. Acknowledge that what they are going through must be hard.

Listen not just to the words they are saying, but also to their tone and body gestures.

Reflect

Once you have a solid understanding of how they are feeling, use reflection to dig a little bit deeper.

Throughout the conversation, if there is a bit of a lull, use the phrase, “It sounds like…” to help them open up even more.

For example, if your friend just spent the past five minutes telling you that she can’t sleep at night because she is struggling to balance her job, school and family commitments, you might say, “It sounds like you are really overwhelmed.” This helps her see that you are listening and gives her a chance to expand upon the impact that feeling is having on her.

Ask probing questions

One way to help someone uncover answers themselves is to ask probing questions. For example, you could ask:

  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What are some things you think you can do next?

Often they will discover solutions on their own. Resist the urge to give them advice. Although it’s tempting to, research shows that listening, rather than giving advice, is the single best way to help a friend who is struggling.

Thank and support them

Let them know that you support them fully. Set a reminder on your calendar to follow up with them and see how they are doing.

Let them know that you support them fully. Set a reminder on your calendar to follow up with them and see how they are doing.

Good listeners let others know that they support them fully. Thank them for opening up to you, and reassure them that they can always speak with you confidentially.

Ask them how you can help them. Put a note on your calendar for a day (or week, or month) from now as a reminder to follow up and see how they are doing.

Finally, if you are worried about your friend or loved one’s safety, engage professional help or alert authorities. Know what you are – and are not – capable of helping with.

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How do you practice compassionate listening? We’re all ears!

Do you have any other listening tips or advice on how to compassionately listen to a friend in need? Let us know in the comments below.