How to listen so someone feels heard
August 21st, 2012 by Briana Cummings
Getting people to really open to you is an art in itself. If you learn to do it well, you will be much more successful in representing clients, collaborating with colleagues and other partners, and earning the trust of everyone you work with. Different styles of listening apply to different contexts (e.g., an academic study, a police interrogation, a therapist), but when your goal is to make someone feel understood, and encourage their trust and openness, use a form of listening called reflexive listening:
(1) Don’t criticize. Let the other person feel safe to talk without judgment.
(2) Don’t sympathize either. Even sympathy is a type of judgment. Once you express a judgment, the other person feels like you have stopped listening with the intent to just understand. Give the other person a chance to fully explore their own thoughts, and fully express themselves to you, without cutting it short with an evaluation of your own.
(3) When the person pauses, briefly sum up what you feel she is trying to say.
(4) Allow the other person to open up at her own pace. Don’t push. Don’t try to direct their thoughts. Don’t try to dig for information.
(5) Avoid asking “why.” This might sound counterintuitive. Asking “why” causes a person to feel defensive.
(6) Don’t give advice, even if the other person asks for it. When someone asks for advice, she is really asking for someone who will reflexively listen.
(7) Express genuine admiration and praise. People need to feel not only accepted but also recognized and appreciated for their positive qualities. If you want your praise to sound sincere, first spend time getting to know the other person and their real qualities.