4 ways to be a better listener

Apr 29, 2021
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Simply being quiet when someone else is speaking is not listening. An unconscious person can do that. Effective listening starts with a genuine curiosity about the other person. Here are four techniques to ensure you are understanding someone.

#1 Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is stating in your own words what you thought the other person said. It keeps you listening closely, rather than blocking.

To paraphrase, use lead-ins such as:

“What I hear you say is…”

“Do you mean that…?”

“Let me understand what’s going on for you....”

Try it anytime someone says something important to you, and you will help the other person feel heard, prevent escalation of strong emotions, prevent miscommunication, better remember what was said, and reduce the post-conversation rehearsing, judging, dreaming, and comparing that many of us engage in when conversations don’t go our way.

If this is a skill you need to work on, ask a friend to allow you to practice on them. Simply say in your own way what you heard. Your friend gets to decide if you heard them correctly.

#2 Clarify

Clarifying, which often accompanies paraphrasing, means asking questions to get the full picture.

Clarifying lets the other person know you’re interested, and helps you understand more about the other person’s experience and background, particularly important when we are communicating across cultural, gender, age, or other differences.

Take a genuine interest in what’s driving someone’s message.

#3 Give feedback

You’ve watched their body language and tone of voice. You’ve paraphrased and clarified their message, now it’s time to give your reaction.

Feedback can and should be immediate, honest, and supportive while remaining non-judgmental.

“I hear what you're saying, but my take on this is…”

“I heard a few things that concern me / that I don’t quite agree with. Can we discuss them?”

“Can I be straight with you? When I hear you say those things, I feel ______ because I need ______.”

#4 Pay attention to congruency

Listening for congruency means paying attention to whether the person’s tone, emphasis, facial expressions, and body language fit with the content of their message.

If something doesn’t feel right, it’s your signal to ask questions.

Your body will tell you more than your brain ever can about a situation.

Pay attention to these signals, in the moment of a conversation, and use them to remain aware when “something’s not right.”

Collaborate to communicate

Effective listening is more than maintaining eye contact and nodding your head. To fully understand the meaning of someone’s message, you usually have to paraphrase, clarify, and give feedback -- to become a collaborator in the communication rather than a passive absorber.


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