However, listening is one of the most potent ways to connect with another person. When we do it well—with empathy, attentiveness, and without judgment—we make others feel seen, heard, and cared for. In turn, this strengthens a relationship and even, in some cases, supports change.
For example, in a relationship between a manager and an employee, a recent study showed that the managers who asked questions and listened well to their employees first could give feedback to their employees that elicited change instead of defensiveness. In addition, listening made the employees feel understood and safe, which gave them room to receive feedback productively.
This kind of listening is remarkable because it's hard to do. Finding good managers, friends, and co-workers who will do this is also challenging. Nevertheless, may I encourage you to practice it? You will see your relationships grow as a result.
You need to decide that you will listen in a way that makes others feel heard. This is often called active listening because you are choosing to do it. You must continue doing it during the conversation, especially when distractions arise or you start to lose focus. Continue bringing your mind back to listening. This kind of listening is participating, not just passively sitting while someone else speaks.
Consider leaving your phone somewhere you can't see or hear it. Pick a setting that won't be distracting, somewhere quiet. Then, when you notice yourself thinking about something else, bring your thoughts back to what the person is saying. Don't insert your views, opinions, or experiences to which you might think they'd relate. This is about what the other person is saying.
Like taking notes, repeating what the speaker says helps solidify their words in your brain. It also shows the speaker that you heard their words. For example, the speaker says, "I found that meeting to be exhilarating and inspirational." So you say something back like, "you found it to be inspirational." You don't insert anything; you repeat it back. This shows that you are actively listening and allows the speaker to hear what they are saying, which is helpful to them whenever they are trying to clarify something they are thinking or feeling.
A good question builds on what the speaker just said. It's not a general question because it relates to the speaker's topic. Don't ask leading questions or insert your opinion in the form of a question. Instead, ask a question that will help the speaker come to an answer or conclusion that they are looking for. It's ok to let a little silence while you think of a good question. The speaker will appreciate that you were listening instead of thinking about your next question.
I'll be the first to say that it's hardest to practice good listening in a conversation that involves tension or conflict.
However, these are the moments that good listening seems to help the most. It takes practice and repetition, but it's worth it.
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