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How to Be A Good Listener

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Knowing how to be a good listener is a skill many people struggle wth. Being a good listener requires practice & an ability to be present to someone else’s experience.

As a therapist, listening is literally my job. I do plenty of talking too, but I can’t say anything helpful if I don’t listen well first!

Good listening can be especially helpful if you’re a parent of a child or teenager. Kids & teens really need to feel hear & understood, & this comes down to being able to listen well to what they are saying, & also what is being implied.

Here are some steps to becoming a better listener:

1. Get Out of Your Own Head: Focus on what the other person is saying, not what you are thinking. Don’t let you own thoughts can distract you.

2. Realise You Don’t Know How it is for Someone Else: Even if you have experienced something similar, don’t automatically assume you know how the other person feels. Even if you do understand, keep listening & reflect back that you are hearing them. Say things such as, ‘That sounds really stressful/ difficult’; or ‘Sounds like that’s been really hard’. These reflect back understanding without making it about you.

Consider the following example:

Teen- ‘School sucked today. That stupid kid was picking on me again. He’s such a pain. I hate him so much!’

Parent: ‘You just have to ignore bullies. Don’t let them get to you.’

This parent is well-meaning, but you can see that there is an assumption of authority & an ignoring of listening. It makes their teen feel dismissed & misunderstood.

Here’s a better option:

Parent: ‘That sounds super stressful- tell me more. Who is this kid & what’s his deal? No wonder it’s stressing you out. Is there anything we can do to fix the situation, or help in some way? ‘

Here, the parent does a better job of reflecting back what they’ve heard & validating their teen’s feelings. They are focusing on their teen’s feelings, whilst offering support.

3. Not Everything is About You!!! Many people struggle to see outside of their own experiences. For example:

Teen- ‘School sucked today. That stupid kid was picking on me again. He’s such a pain. I hate him so much!’

Parent- ‘I got bullied in school. This kid used to throw my lunch away every day. One day I went up to him & punched him. He didn’t do it after that. You just have to stand up for yourself’.

This may seem like helpful advice to some, but this parent is just talking about themselves! This sends the message to their teen that they are not listening to how it is for THEM. Plus, it may not be the best advice in this day & age to threaten violence- things have changed in regards to tolerance in schools for those kind of threats. This teen may end up in more trouble than the bully if they follow this advice!

4. Don’t change the subject! Sometimes when people feel unsure of what to say, they will change the subject, thinking that’s helpful to reducing the other person’s distress.

Teen; ‘School sucked today. That stupid kid was picking on me again. He’s such a pain. I hate him so much!’

Parent: ‘Don’t let it bother you- it’s not worth it. You know I talked to Grandma today & she told me the Robinsons’ got a new dog’.

Their teen is left feeling unheard & at worse, unloved. Validation means reflecting back that we have heard the other person & that we care about what they are saying.

5. You Don’t Have to Solve the Problem: Listening, validating & supporting someone to solve the problem often works better than simply telling them what they should do. Ask them what they think might be helpful & listen to what they say. Only give your opinion if they ask for it!

6. Learn Validation Skills: Validation skills are great for allowing people to feel understood & also for resolving conflict. But validation skills take practice! If you'd like help learning how to effectively validate, talk to us about booking a session to explore these skills- we can help!

Becoming a good listener has a lot of benefits. It means people will feel comfortable talking to you & this allows for increased closeness in relationships. For parents, being a good listener provides a safe place for children to share their feelings. This is a highly protective factor for them as they tackle the world.


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