How to be a good listener

When we’re having conversations with friends, or someone is sharing a challenge with us, most of the time we listen to respond, when in reality, it’s more important we listen to understand.

When we’re being an empathetic listener, we’re prioritising listening to the other person rather than talking ourselves – and this can be easier said than done! While we might not be saying as much, in reality, we are often helping that person more than we know by simply showing we care and that we’re paying attention.

The next time someone comes to you with a problem, try to remember these three key rules;

  1. Don’t judge.
  2. Don’t fix.
  3. Don’t get into the drama.


Other tips we like for listening well include…

  1. Pay attention. Put the phone down, turn to face the person.
  2. Be present. Try to not think about what you are going to say next or to jump in when they are still speaking.
  3. Show interest. Ask questions, nod.
  4. Practise empathy. Try to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes.
  5. Repeat what you heard, to clarify that you are understanding. 


It can be harder than it sounds to follow these rules, especially when it comes to not offering solutions. It is natural that we want to help the person who is having a difficult time. Keep in mind, feeling heard is often the biggest help, so you are already doing plenty just by being there. 

Of course, you don’t want to be lost for words either. Here are some things you can practise saying that will help you avoid falling into old habits;

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Remember being an empathetic listener is all about showing that you care and listening actively to what the person is saying. These phrases are starting points to show empathy but the most important thing is to respond genuinely and authentically.

For more on empathetic listening, explore Lael Stone’s dose of inspiration here.

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