A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

9 Things All Good Listeners Do During Daily Conversations

Communication is crucial in this high-stress, high-speed, and high-tech world. Sometimes amid all that’s going on, we forget to really listen. Here’s how people with good listening skills tune in.

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They use good body language

Put your phone down and turn to face your conversation partner. “Eliminate, or at least limit, background noise and other distractions so you can concentrate on what the other person is saying,” says Debby Mayne, the etiquette expert for About.com. Make direct eye contact and put your torso and shoulders in his direction. Give him your undivided attention and focus to show that you’re invested in the dialogue. “If you aren’t really paying attention, it shows in your body language,” says Cherie Burbach, author of Art and Faith: Mixed Media Art With a Faith-Filled Message, who writes about listening and friendship at About.com. Even if he isn’t doing the same, you’re setting a good example.

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They watch for nonverbal cues

Words aren’t the only part of the story. When you’re speaking with someone face to face, see if he’s tapping his foot. If he’s looking you in the eye. If his smile is crooked. “Pay attention to the speaker’s expressions and body language,” says Mayne. “She might try to downplay something she’s telling you about, but if she has a look of consternation or closes herself off with folded arms and crossed legs, you’ll know that she’s deeply affected.” Burbach says to look for sighs, rolled eyes, or even frowns. Nonverbal clues are just as important as verbal ones. You’ll have a better chance of spotting nonverbal cues when you pay attention and keep quiet.

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They don’t interrupt

If you’re talking, you can’t really listen. Let your partner say what’s on his mind freely and finish his own sentences. It can be difficult at times, especially if the person is emotional or you really want to get your point in. But the less he speaks, the less information you have. And it sends the message that you’re impatient and that what you have to say is more interesting. If you really have something important to say or need some clarification on something, jot it down to ask the person when he pauses.

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They resist the urge to offer solutions

If someone is talking about a problem, refrain from doling out advice. “Helping someone vent goes a long way toward the goodwill of a friendship,” says Burbach. “Being an active listener means you’re allowing your friend to get out his emotions in a healthy way, without trying to fix the problem.” If he wants to hear your opinions, he’ll ask for them. Mayne explains that the speaker may just want what he’s saying validated, and you don’t have to do so if you disagree with her. If you really want to share your viewpoint, ask something like “Would you like to hear my thoughts?” Just be forewarned that your attempts may backfire. “Offering a solution very often comes across as dismissing a friend’s problems rather than solving them,” says Burbach.

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They ensure that questions don’t steer the conversation off topic

Your friend Jess tells a story about a date at a particular restaurant. You interject that you and your mutual friend Jen just went there. The two of you proceed to talk about Jen and her dating life and Jess’s original story has been redirected. When you realize that a conversation has gone off-topic, steer it back to the original one. “Apologize and remind your friend where she was in telling you her story,” says Burbach. She suggests saying something like “I’m sorry, we got off track. You were saying?”

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They take notes

If you’re at work, jotting down some key information may help you remember what you discussed in a conversation. Even if you don’t look at the notes again, the act of writing them down can help you remember the information better. If you’re not in a note-taking setting, you can give the person a summary of what he just told you. That will help you break down what’s been said into manageable, absorbable chunks, and help you digest what he’s saying better.

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They show empathy

Act happy when the speaker is jovial or sad when he is talking about something somber. Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes to let yourself feel what it’s like to be him in the moment. By showing that you’re feeling what the speaker is feeling, you’re being an effective listener. This doesn’t mean, though, that you have to agree with everything he says. You can say something like “I see” (or another comment of affirmation), smile or nod to show you’re listening without taking sides. Here are habits you have that make people trust you.

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They’re open-minded

Don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions about what the speaker is saying. Otherwise, your preconceived notions may make you miss something important. As soon as you’ve made a judgment, you’ve compromised your effectiveness at being a good listener. Take in everything he’s saying. Turn off your inner voice and put aside your opinions and beliefs so you can hear what’s being spoken to you.

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They think before they speak

After the speaker is done, take a few seconds to come up with a response, if any. That will make the speaker see that you’re reflecting on what he just said. And he’ll know that you weren’t just trying to jump in as soon as he was finished. Consider if you can offer input that’s valuable or if you should just ask follow-up questions. For more small talk tips, memorize these magic phrases that can save awkward conversations.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Stacey Feintuch
Stacey Feintuch contributes to RD.com's Health and Relationship sections. Her articles have appeared in Woman's World, Boca Raton Observer and Healthywomen.org, among other sites and publications. She earned her MA in magazine writing from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and her BA in journalism from The George Washington University.