How To Be A Better Listener

How To Be A Good Listener

I can't speak for everyone, but I know that I really want to be someone people feel they can come talk to when they're struggling. We wouldn't think it but there are skills involved that we can use when listening to someone sharing a problem to make the experience more positive and helpful, and they are ones you can practise. The people we refer to as 'good listeners', and feel good after talking to, seem to naturally understand these principles but if you to improve or feel better equipped to help the next time someone starts being vulnerable then here are some tips that will help.

Be an active listener: There is a big difference between listening and hearing, and this is really important when someone is sharing something important. When you listen you are actively trying to understand the messages of the speaker, and it's important to remain neutral and non-judgemental. Be patient and don't try to fill the silence, just give the other person space to explore their feelings and share their problem. 

How to do this: Put away distractions and focus on the person completely. Body language is a great way to demonstrate this: sitting on a sofa with them, with your body faced towards them and open signals 'I am here and I care about what you are telling me'.

Validate their feelings: You don't have to agree with a person to validate someone, you are simply acknowledging that you understand that they are feeling the way they do. Validating feelings is important because it makes the other person feel heard, and that they can trust you with opening up about their emotions. 

How to do this: Nod and make affirming noises (such as 'yes' or 'mm') whilst they are speaking, then when they have finished use phrases like 'I hear that you are feeling...' and 'it sounds like...'. 

Ask questions: Asking open-ended and probing questions are useful for several reasons: they show that you are engaged with the other person, they allow you to better understand the situation, and they allow the other person to explore their own feelings. Questions can also be a great way to frame advice (although it's important not to do this too early on as you'll see later!). By asking someone if they want to or can enact your suggestion it gives them the agency to say no (because not all advice works for everyone) as well as allowing them to feel like they played a part in the decision of what to do next.

How to do this: Ask questions like "What do you think started this?" or "Would you feel better if..?"

Paraphrase: Paraphrasing – restating what the person has just shared with you in your own words – is a fantastic way to both demonstrate that you've listened to them, as well as allowing for you to clarify that you have understood their perspective correctly. Don't worry if they say "no" or "it's not quite like that", it just gives you more opportunity to understand before offering advice or your perspective.

Hot to do this: I guess you guys know what I mean by paraphrasing but a great way to introduce it is to say "so let me check I've understood: [insert your understanding of events]". 

Normalise but don't trivialise: This is a hard one to balance but it's very important. Sometimes it can be helpful to know that other people are going through the same thing: when I was having a terrible freshman year hearing older students say that they wouldn't repeat theirs for any amount of money made me realise that not only could improve, but that I wasn't alone in struggling. But you don't want to dismiss what the other person is going through, an important part of being listened to is feeling that the other person understands that it's difficult for you. 

How to do this: "I know that a lot of people find long distance relationships really difficult, it sounds hard to balance being in different places and having separate lives". 

Offer personal experience but don't assume it's exactly the same: Somewhat related to the above point, offering personal experiences can be a great way to normalise someone's experience and demonstrate that you understand some of what they're going through. It's important not to assume that the situations are exactly the same though, and don't try to detract away from their problem with your own stories. Keep the focus on them but use it as a method to perhaps suggest advice or offer sympathy.

How to do this: "I know that when I felt left out from my roommates it really helped me to suggest activities that we could do as three, do you think you could do that?"

Offer advice, but don't let that be the main focus: I cannot stress this enough: do not offer advice straight away. Most people want to be listened to and explore their own feelings about something, they don't want someone to run in with a list of solutions. Take time to do the above, getting a good understanding of why your friend is upset and letting them truly share their perspective, before offering any sort of opinions. Sometimes a great way to do this is to ask them what they think would be a good solution: it empowers them to find a plan of action that they're truly happy with, and they still feel supported by your input. 

How to do this: "Do you think you could..?" or "What do you think would help right now?"

Bonus: if the situation involves another person and your confider is worried about their reaction, flip the question round (reframe it, as you'll see more below).

How to do this: "Would you think he was being selfish if he asked the same of you?"

Reframe: Sometimes nothing needs to change about a situation to change how we feel about it. By listening and validating, and then reframing you can give someone the space to be upset but also a way to move forward. When the frame is shifted, the meaning changes and thinking and behaviour can change with it.

How to do this: "I know it seems like he was being deliberately hurtful, but do you think maybe he just hadn't thought about how it would look to you?" 

There is no one way to be a good listener, but it involves using some or all of the above communication skills in the way that best suits the person you're helping. I always try to stay away from being judgemental, particularly in the beginning, but maybe the person wants you to swear about their ex-boyfriend. Pay attention to the person's words and body language and it will give you a lot of clues about how best to help. Remember: if someone has a positive experience sharing with you, they're going to be more likely to open up in the future, and how great is that?

Do you have any advice for how to be a good listener?


  1. Great Blog post gorgeous, reminded me of our active listening session when I was with you xx

  2. Great Blog post gorgeous, reminded me of our active listening session when I was with you xx

  3. This is SUCH a brilliant post. You've given some really excellent advice for people to follow. I know I'll certainly take this post away with me xx

    Sam // Samantha Betteridge

    1. Thank you Sam! I'm so glad you find it useful :) xx


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