Learn to listen with your heart instead of just your ears

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

  • I think being a good listener is extremely important in any conversation. I think I currently struggle with two things… If the conversation is just not interesting me, I unconsciously check out and display the fact that I am not interested, which is quite bad. If the other person is talking and I develop an idea, I keep thinking about my idea until it is my turn to speak, which leads me to not listen to them.

    • I do that too, Amanda! Sometimes I get so excited to talk that I literally have to bite my tongue. I know what you mean by thinking about your idea until it’s your turn to talk! It can be a struggle.

  • I tend to be an impatient listener. My husband drags stories on and I always rush him. I’m really trying to be more sensitive to his style of conversing.

    • Aw, that’s great that you’re aware of this and consciously working on it! Props to you!

  • I just felt like I read a cool management related post. I’m in my first semester studying all about business communication and so on. Nice post! :)

  • I think the one I have a hard time with is exploration. I am good at hearing, but not repeating back to show that I had comprehension of the topic. Asking more questions could really improve that!

    • For sure! It’s always a work in progress. Do not expect to be perfect right away at it!

  • Great post! I have to admit, this is one of my biggest weaknesses. I tend to always be thinking two steps ahead of what I’m doing, which can be good in some circumstances, but it means I’m not always the most attentive or present listener. I am pinning this list and planning to refer to it over and over again to try and be better.

    • Thanks so much for pinning! Hope it helps! :)

  • Sara Strand

    I definitely struggle with empathy versus sympathy. Mostly because I hear people complain about EVERYTHING and I want to say, “Sure, this tiny aspect sucks right now, but look at everything else that is amazing- stop focusing on the negative all of the time.” It’s very frustrating to me.

    • Yes…it’s good that you recognize the difference, however! Most people don’t!

  • Hil D

    yes paraphrasing is key!

  • Dustin and I just went to a marriage communication class our church offered and a lot of these tips were given to us, too! Something we are trying to implement into our communication is for one person to strictly be an inquisitor (only ask questions) and the other person to express exactly what they feel. It helps us listen better!

    • That’s a great point! I’m looking forward to marriage classes next year with my priest…I’m sure he will talk about healthy communication!

  • Yes, yes, YES. I love this so much! Definitely saving and sharing soon. I’ve seen so many of these things be huge in relationships and ministry. Reflective listening (summarizing, paraphrasing, etc) is such a great way to actively listen and show someone you love them and value what they’re sharing. Seriously…so, so good, Chelsea! I wish everyone in the world could read these tips :)

    • Aw thanks, girl! It was nice because I got to implement my counseling readings for school into a blog post :)

  • I have a bachelor’s in psychology and in dietetics and I think the counseling classes were the main factor that both those degrees were seriously lacking in. I think listening and counseling skills are so important for my profession as a dietitian. I don’t know if it’s just a hard skill to teach/learn or why I have never had a good counseling class. Especially in today’s society where everyone is attached to their computers, smart phones, etc. listening is a skill more people could benefit from learning!

    • Exactly. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect…and always have a smartphone in hand! I wish they taught these basic lessons in high school or gen eds. in college. I actually remember learning these in guidance classes in elementary school!

  • These are perfect! I’ve taught customer service seminars for businesses and these are tips I always discuss in those classes. They are critical to creating a positive experience.

    • Awesome! So great to hear that you have heard of these tips before! :)

  • yanique

    These are great listening tips. I’m a pretty good listener but not always a great communicator.

    • None of us are perfect! 😉

  • These are great tips! Thank you for sharing them with us!

  • Lindsay Katherine

    This is such an important post, and how funny because I’m teaching active listening skills this week! I will definitely be sharing this post in my class.

    • Aw this is so awesome! That would be so cool. Thanks, Lindsay!

  • These are so important to remember! A huge one for me when I’m wanting others to listen to me is eye contact. It’s so important to me and it shows me that they’re not just half listening.

    • I know. I get so frustrated when someone I’m talking to is either on their phone or looking at the TV!!

  • This list was SO great! I do try to do all of these things but sometimes I tend to sympathize instead of empathize. I probably give advice too much haha.

    • It’s okay! It takes practice. And I’m totally with you on the advice thing..

  • I am now playing in my head conversations with people to see if I was a good listener or not. Ha!

    • lol!!! 😉 Hope this helps!

  • Serene Mom

    I think I actually do all of these! It might explain why people are so comfortable talking to me lol. I thought maybe I just had a kind face 😉 thank you for sharing!

    • Good for you, so happy to hear that!!

  • If I’m being honest, I’m not a great listener. When I’m talking to people I’m closest to (my husband, my mom, my best friend) I tend to take over the conversation! They’re all aware of this and no when to tell me to stop. I’m definitely better with other people tough. The one thing I need to do better with is responding with questions.

    • LOL we are like the same person. I am definitely a talker as well. I get so excited to say what I have to say that sometimes I tune out when the other person is talking! I’m also the “advice giver.”

  • These are great tips, Chelsea! Thanks for sharing wisdom from your class with us. I tend to be very quiet, shy, and introverted, so when I sense that someone isn’t listening, I shut down pretty quickly. I think there’s a fine balance with #2 — I get lose my train of thought easily, so too many encouragers is distracting, but no encouragers means I’ll probably clam up! I’m trying to get better about asking people questions to keep them talking and help them to go deeper.

    • I’m glad that you are able to look at your downfalls as a listener and makes goals to work on them! Also, there is nothing wrong with being introverted. Sometimes I wish that I was more introverted…I tend to get so excited and talk over people sometimes when they are speaking- which is incredibly rude.

  • Beautiful post. As a life coach I am trained in active listening, which is very similar to the points you talk about in this article. It is incredible to see what you can achieve with someone by really listening to them and repeating to them what you’ve heard them say. It can change lives, truly.

    • Thank you so much! So happy to hear that this resonates with your life. Thank you for your kind comment!

  • I’m so glad I have a handful of friends who really are great listeners, but I could really be a better listener myself – these are great tips, and a beautiful post. :)

    Christie’s Take on Life. x

    • Thank you so much, Christie!

  • These are all so true, and it’s something I work really hard at. It’s so important that we be good listeners for our friends and family.