Being a good listener is a quality necessary for being a good leader, a good teammate and a good friend. While you may think of listening as something automatic, there are ways to be a more active listener and to prove to others you are really absorbing what they’re saying.
To get a better understanding of the traits of good listeners and how these traits impact their interactions, check out the list below.
Good Listeners Have More Empathy
Good listeners tend to be more empathetic people, meaning they have a better understanding of what other people feel. You may not be able to fully relate to what another person is talking about, but you can show them you understand what they’re feeling and offer support. Even if you can’t offer advice for a resolution, the person you empathize with is sure to take note and remember the compassionate attempt you’re making.
Good Listeners Are Present in Conversation
If someone is trying to open up to you but you can’t tear yourself away from your phone, chances are they’re not going to feel like they’re being heard. Good listeners can drop other things that may grab their attention to be present in the moment, and this shows the other person that what they have to say is important.
Aside from obvious signs of paying attention like keeping your hands free, you can show others you’re engaged in conversation with body language such as leaning forward slightly, uncrossing your arms, angling your body toward the person you’re listening to and making eye contact.
Good Listeners Are Open Minded
Part of being a good listener is being open and accepting to ideas that don’t align with your own. While no one is telling you to adopt the viewpoints of others, you should be accepting enough of dissenting ideas so other people still feel comfortable enough to share them with you.
If people have the idea you don’t value opinions that differ from your own, they have no reason to believe you’ll respect their opinion and will likely not want to discuss anything with you. Especially if you’re in a position of leadership – creating an environment where everyone feels their voices can be heard and respected goes a long way toward more efficient communication and better teamwork.
Good Listeners Ask Questions
Listening isn’t just about smiling and nodding while another person speaks. It’s actively showing you are absorbing the information they’re providing. Ask follow up questions to show you understand what they’re saying and gather more information to help you continue the conversation.
Questions can be especially important if you find yourself feeling confused. Asking something like, “So what you’re saying is…” will show you’re listening and doing your best to comprehend.
While you can use the information you have to look for a solution, you should also keep in mind that sometimes there isn’t a solution — and people aren’t always looking for you to solve their problems. Sometimes people just want to be heard.
Good Listeners Are Prepared for Criticism
Being a good listener when you like what you’re hearing and being a good listener overall are different things. It’s easy to pay attention when the subject flatters or interests you, but not all conversations will be fun for you. It’s important to show people you’re just as dedicated to hearing them out when the topic is something serious, especially when it comes to criticism of yourself.
Everyone makes mistakes, and people will occasionally want to discuss those mistakes, particularly when it’s something that impacts them. Be ready to give your attention to conversations you’d rather not have and practice thinking instead of speaking.
When we feel like we’re under attack, it’s easy to get defensive, but attempting to armor yourself blocks off opportunities for growth and constructive input. Being able to step back and listen for a moment before responding can make all the difference in how a conversation goes.
Good Listeners Pay Attention to Body Language
Nonverbal cues can say just as much as any verbal communication. To really understand what someone is saying, you have to pay attention even when they’re not speaking. Look for signs of discomfort or anger. Also be sure to pay attention to what people do with their hands and where they focus their attention.
What someone doesn’t say can reveal more than their words do. Learn to gauge a person’s facial expressions or hand gestures. Not everyone expresses themselves the same way, so becoming more familiar with a person’s body language can help you understand them better.
Good Listeners Can Disagree
Being a good listener isn’t just about agreeing with everyone and telling them what they want to hear. When someone is looking for your input on an issue, you should be honest about how you feel, even if it contradicts their opinion.
Resorting to non-solutions like agreeing to disagree or agreeing for the sake of agreeing doesn’t lead to progress for anyone. Try using statements like, “I can see why you would think that,” or, “I understand your side of this” before offering your thoughts. Be sure to let the other person know you value their thoughts even when you don’t agree.
While being a good listener isn’t exactly a science, there are definitely a few sure fire ways to let people know they have your attention. Being known as a good listener increases the comfort level people will have in confiding in you, approaching you to solve problems and discussing everyday life events. Having the confidence of your friends and your team can make all the difference in how effectively you work together and communicate.
Using the tips above to be a better listener can improve multiple aspects of your life and career. Next time you’re approached with a problem, try taking a deep breath and open your mind and ears to listen.
Anum Yoon is the founder and editor of the millennial money blog, Current on Currency. She is especially interested in empowering women to take control of their finances. Sign up for her weekly money newsletter here.