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How to Be a Better Listener: Two Essential Components

If you want to be a great conversationalist, be a good listener. When we talk with a good listener, we feel valued and respected. We feel safe knowing that we won’t be judged and our words will be validated by compassionate ears. In fact, when we’re in a pickle, the simple act of being listened to can melt our hearts and open our minds. 

Most of us know what it’s like to talk with a bad listener – it can be a disempowering experience to say the least. For some of us, this may have occurred at a doctor’s office, where your communication is riddled with interruptions, repeated health concerns, and discounted questions. This is where the key difference between hearing and listening comes in. Someone can hear you, but not listen to you – and by that, we mean picking up on your language, tone, and offering open-hearted support. When we listen effectively, we’re more present because we’re not thinking about anything other than where we are right now, and that makes the talker feel important. The truth is – they are important. 

When we don’t listen effectively, we certainly pay a price on both ends. We can come off as aloof and narcissistic, losing intimacy and connection to the other person because they don’t feel valued. People stop sharing when they understand that the "hearer” isn’t interested in what they have to say—and perhaps the best way to communicate a lack of interest is to not listen well. 

When it comes to effective listening, there are two components. 

Compassionate Witnessing 

Compassionate witnessing is listening with compassion and empathy, and without judgement. When we’re compassionately witnessing someone, it’s not about being right, winning in an argument, or fixing a problem. It’s about understanding the truth of the other person’s experience. Where are they coming from? What makes them upset? 

To make someone feel seen is perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give. Compassionate witnessing can transform your relationships – within yourself, toward others, and toward your environment. 

Active Listening  

It’s not enough to simply stay silent when someone is talking. If you don’t participate in some way, it can seem that you didn’t listen or didn’t care enough to engage. Active listening encompasses four factors: engaged body language, clarifying, paraphrasing, and giving back. What do these all mean? 

Engaged body language includes not yawning at someone, pointing your body toward the speaker, leaning slightly forward, and making eye contact, when possible. Don’t slouch or fold your arms, which can be interpreted as disinterest. 

Clarifying – or asking for more information when you need clarity – shows the talker that you’re invested in what they are saying. Paraphrasing – or summarizing in your own words what the speaker is saying - is another way of checking that you understood the talker correctly. Lastly, giving feedback is about sharing your thoughts, feelings, and maybe advice. When it comes to giving advice, make sure that the speaker wants it.   

The PIH Perspective 

From the moment a patient walks through our doors, we want to make you feel seen and heard. Your story matters to us, which is why we are dedicated to learning all facets of your health journey.