What Makes A Good Listener?
A good listener doesn’t just listen to find something that they can respond to. Listening is not the same as hearing – it’s not about just giving the other person a chance to speak.
In fact, a good listener might often interrupt the person who’s talking.
A good listener listens to understand. To absorb. That means they ASK inquisitive questions that help them make sense of what the other person is telling them. But it doesn’t end there.
WTF Is Active Listening?
By actively asking well-structured, challenging questions, you’re actually helping the other person understand themselves. They have to pause, process their feelings, and figure out what they think.
That’s why it feels meaningful for them.
And while they’re processing, they feel like YOU care enough to actually want to understand them, and that creates a connection between you.
So ask less fact-based questions, because they’re easy to answer. People already have ready-made responses for those.
Instead, ask more questions that make the other person think and reflect. That’s what active listening is. There are examples of this below.
A Good Listener Knows When To Shut Up
If you’re worried that you’re asking too many questions – like it’s an interview – well the other person only really gets that feeling if you’re collecting facts, e.g. “How long are you going to be overseas for?” and “What countries are you visiting?” and “What are you going to do?”
It doesn’t really happen if you’re making them reflect deeply (as long as they feel comfortable with you and with the environment you’re in) – e.g. “What are you going to miss most while you’re overseas?” or “What are you hoping to get out of the trip?” or “Is there anything you’re worried about?”
Because those deeper questions, which the other person has to process, naturally lead to longer and more open responses, which space out your questions.
So it’s not like you’re firing questions at them endlessly. A good listener still gives the other person space to talk… BUT you’re also guiding them with good questions.
Good Listener Example: Understanding Your Girlfriend Better
My girlfriend told me once, “I don’t like it when you tell me how to do things. I feel like you’re judging me.”
“I’m not judging you.” I said. “It was just a suggestion.”
I was not listening.
Regardless of how I experienced it, her experience was that I was judging her. A bad listener focuses on responding to explain his own experience. A good listener focuses on understanding the other person’s experience:
- “Which part makes you feel like I’m judging you?”
- “Was it what I said, or how I said it?”
- “How would you like me to make suggestions in future? Or would you prefer it if I didn’t make suggestions?”
A good listener improves the way he relates to people by understanding how they think. Understanding what’s important to them.
A bad listener learns nothing and pushes people away.
You can read this article to see another way being a good listener can help in challenging situations.
Good Listener Example: Active Listening At A Job Interview
At an interview for a sales job I was asked, “How will you bring us new clients?”
I didn’t have an answer prepared. I panicked and charged forward blindly with an empty, generic answer. Any blog post on sales would’ve listed off the same uninspired strategies.
I was not listening.
A good listener would’ve unpacked the interviewer’s question to understand what he was looking for first, then used that ammunition to craft a tailored, thought-out response:
- “What’s your biggest bottleneck right now in getting new clients on board?”
- “What strategies have worked best so far?”
- “Is there anything you definitely wouldn’t try?”
A good listener makes sure he understands all of the information before responding.
A bad listener jumps the gun.