Becoming a Better Listener: What It Takes To Hone This Important Skill

Now more than ever, it can be difficult to truly listen and be engaged with people when we find what they say is untrue or even insulting.  From discussions on politics to disagreements about parenting styles, in today’s climate it takes practice to respond to those around you in a way that shows you understand and accept their feelings and experiences, even if you don’t agree.

But by trying to keep an open mind and building your validating response skills, you can have a positive impact on almost any relationship.

This all starts with actually caring what other people have to say, argues Christine Riordan, Provost at the University of Kentucky.

“Listening with empathy consists of three specific sets of behaviors. First, there’s the actual intake of information — recognizing the verbal and nonverbal cues the other person is emitting” she explains.

Riordan goes on to say, “Then there’s processing, which is where we make sense of what the other person is saying. Finally, there’s responding.

This is where you validate what they’ve said and note that validating doesn’t mean you have to agree with it — by nodding, playing back what you heard, or otherwise acknowledging that you’re picking up what they’re putting down.”

David Cunningham of Landmark Forum says it’s important not to care so much whether we agree with another person or not. 

“In other words, we can listen to things we don’t agree with.  But we can listen to them and find something interesting about what they are saying,” the Landmark Forum leader explains. 

Some other useful advice to follow: people don’t always have to respond to everything when engaged in a conversation, especially a heated discussion.

Instead of starting a battle (which most likely you will never win) or getting up and walking away, you can simply “let it fly by” and remain in the conversation.  This may take a bit of willpower and some practice. 

And if you do choose to respond, it all goes back to validation.  Validation is answering in a way that shows the other person you believe their experience or statement is valid and that you don’t intend to change their view or correct them for being “wrong.”

It can be difficult to listen and respond to someone in an understanding way when you’re upset, however, it’s respectful to show them that you really hear them and understand why they feel the way they do.  Try to keep an open mind.

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