As many of you know, I am currently a Master’s student in a professional counseling program. This is my first semester as a full-time grad student and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’m learning and growing. Right now, I am enrolled in a course called Counseling Process, which has been an eye-opening experience in which we are learning how to apply the basic skills of counseling in practice sessions. In the course, we practice our skills with a partner while being recorded on camera. Later, we watch the tape and access how we counseled each other. It has been very nerve-wracking, but is an amazing opportunity to see how we can improve upon our listening skills.
What has thrown me for a loop is that I have found that I am not as great of a listener as I thought I was. Luckily, there is always room for improvement and growth. That being said, I’m sharing with you today 8 habits of effective listeners. I have divided the habits into sub categories to help you understand what area of listening is being worked on.
Remember, we are all human. Do not expect to be perfect in all of these areas. Listening is an on-going skill that requires practice and dedication, just like any other skill. Once you start to practice a skill, it gets easier. Trust me.
Are you interested in improving your listening skills and improving your relationships in general? Keep reading.
Showing Interest and Appreciation
1.) Using Appropriate Body Language
Are you communicating that you are ready to listen? Effective listeners focus solely on whomever is speaking. They make eye contact, use head nods, and use appropriate body gestures to encourage the speaker to talk. These skills are important because they show that you are being genuine as a listener.
2.) Using Minimal Encouragers
Effective listeners repeat key words and phrases of the talker to encourage them to keep sharing. Using prompts such as, “Uh huh, okay, right, yes…” help the talker know that he or she is heard.
3.) Having Unselfish Goals
Sometimes, we get caught up in a conversation and tend to talk more about ourselves than is appropriate at the time. It’s important to remember that this conversation is NOT about you. It’s about the person who has come to you to listen. When you make an attempt to listen, be sure that you are actually listening. Now is not the time to share your story, unless the talker asks you for your opinion. Self-disclosure can be a good way to help the speaker feel understood, but too much self-disclosure can push the listener away.
4.) Questioning the Speaker
Effective listeners encourage the talker to share. They ask open-ended questions and do not over-use questions. This shows your true intentions to listen and helps you understand the speaker a little bit more.
5.) Paraphrasing the Speaker
To communicate that you are understanding what the speaker is saying, effective listeners rephrase what the speaker has expressed. This shows that not only are you listening, but you have or have not understood correctly what the speaker is communicating. Paraphrasing is only factual. You are not necessarily paraphrasing feelings, because you may not understand what the speaker is going through. An example: “So you are mad at your sister because she left you out.”
6.) Reflecting the Feelings of the Speaker
Reflecting involves stating the feeling and the content of the problem faced by the listener. For example, “You feel ____ when _____.” Notice the difference between paraphrasing and reflecting.
7.) Summarizing the Conversation
This involves making statements about key moments while listening to capture the overall sense of what the speaker is saying. It’s almost like paraphrasing in a bigger context. One way to start a summation could be by saying, “So let me see if I have this right….” When you summarize, you are using both factual and emotional contents.
Listening With Your Heart
8.) Empathize, Not Sympathize
Lastly, make it a goal to empathize with the listener versus sympathize. What is the difference of empathy versus sympathy? We actually had an entire lecture dedicated to this concept because my professors felt it was so important.
Empathy…fuels connection, and is a choice. Empathy does NOT mean that you have to understand what the speaker is going through. An example of empathy: “I don’t even now to to say. I can’t imagine being in your shoes.”
Sympathy…drives disconnection. An example of sympathy: “At least you still HAVE a boyfriend.”
Sometimes, the listener just wants to be heard. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily want advice or for you to completely understand. They just want to be heard.
Remember, I am not a licensed counselor (yet!) but I am in the beginning stages of my professional counseling training. I challenge you to review these skills and reflect on what areas need growth. What steps can you take to work on these areas?
What aspect of listening do you struggle with? Leave me a comment below.
Can’t get enough of my self improvement posts? Check out these!
The Importance of Self-Care
Why It’s Okay To be an Emotional Person