How to Be a Good Listener

By Michele C. Hollow @michelechollow
August 02, 2017

When was the last time you really listened to someone? Empathy is good, but it doesn’t teach us how to be a good listener. Here’s are some tips. 

When was the last time you really listened to someone? A friend calls and you can hear that her voice is about to break into a sob. Our immediate reaction is to tell her it’ll be okay. We might even share an anecdote of a similar situation that’s happened to us.

Notice that we haven’t stopped talking? Our intentions are good. We want to take away the pain. We hate seeing someone we care about feeling bad. Empathy is good, but it doesn’t teach us how to be a good listener.


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Telling your friend that you can relate moves the focus from your friend to you. Being a good listener is being quiet, so your friend can share her feelings.

This can be hard because we want to fix the situation. Realizing that it might be impossible to right the wrongs done to your friend is the first step of how to be a good listener. We might also focus on what we can say to make our friend feel better. When doing this, we’re not listening.

Silence really is golden when listening to a friend. Let her cry; let her express her anger. The trick is not to be afraid of the tears and not to be scared of silence. Many of us, especially when we’re spending time with our partners or out with a good friend, are terrified of the quiet gaps in our conversations.

We have to understand that silence is another way to communicate. When someone is angry or upset, they need that quiet to think things out. Yes, you may feel uncomfortable. To overcome it, listen. Actually listening to your friend in need or listening to the person who is yelling takes courage. It also allows the person to express herself.

Even if that person is saying mean things, just listen. Try your best to focus on the words between the sobs and the words when someone is on a rant. When the person stops talking, then you can ask questions. Maybe your friend said she’s angry at her partner, Tom, because he’s mean. Ask your friend: “why do you think that Tom’s mean?”

This shows you were listening. It also gives your friend a chance to think about the situation, which often is followed by silence. In that time your friend is thinking; don’t bombard her with questions. Be quiet and allow her to think things through.

When a child comes to us with a problem, our first instinct is to fix the situation. We might start out listening and then interject with a “but it’s not really that bad.” To your child, it may feel overwhelming.

If your child’s upset, listen. You may want to revisit the problem when it’s not so raw for your child and he’s calm. You can ask him a few questions and be quiet when he answers. When your child feels listened to, he’ll open up.

That goes for friends, too. When we listen, others share. They may be able to figure out a solution, and that’s where it gets tricky. We all want to solve problems. However, sometimes there are no solutions. In the case of a death or breakup, time to grieve may be the only answer.

That’s where you come in. You can listen, be silent, and understand that some problems don’t have solutions. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one that can be accomplished with practice.

The next time a friend or family member wants to talk to you, just listen and fight the urge to interject. That’s how to be a good listener.


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April 02, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN