What makes a good listener?

“We don’t hear what people said; we imagine what they meant.” —Byron Katie

I’m an expert at hearing things that people didn’t say.

I don’t mean that I’m exceedingly perceptive or psychic or even skilled at reading the subtext of a conversation. I mean that I often come to a conversation with suspicions, fears, assumptions, and preconceived notions.

We all have those things, of course, but they can be really problematic if you don’t deliberately set them aside in order to be a good, open, engaged listener.

Yes, being a good listener makes the person you’re talking to feel important and valued, but that’s only part of the story.

I find it really difficult not to believe that I know what the speaker is thinking or feeling or intending to say, and that absolutely stymies legitimate communication.

I unwittingly torpedo what would otherwise be great communication by not being able to more clearly hear their words… and nothing more. Slowing down helps. Repeating back what you heard helps.

Walking back a misunderstanding helps, and taking their words at face value is invaluable.

The truth is that you don’t actually know the intention of the person you’re talking to (even when you are convinced that you do), so the better you are about just taking in what is being said, the more likely you’ll be able to connect meaningfully.

If you’re not sure how they meant something, ask gently for clarification.

If something doesn’t feel good, say so with quiet openness and in a non-blaming manner.

And since we always, always bring assumptions with us, try this one: assume that the best possible intention is also the truest one.

Let me know how it goes.

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  • Paula

    Great advice!!!!

  • Niki

    Love this!

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