I attended an event the other night, at the beginning of which each of us was asked what was currently on our minds. As I knew I would be writing this blog post soon, I said that I would like to get peoples' opinions on what makes a good listener. I was hoping for a long list of proven qualities to share here, and had my pen and paper ready to take notes.
We went around in a circle, and other people were stating what was on their minds, including the horribly othering ideas that the current Government of Ontario is tossing around, or how you could make good ideas at work spread faster.
About five people down from me, a lady in her fifties that I had never met before turned to me:
"Your question actually relates to what has been on my mind tonight. I just returned from a visit with my 92 year old mother, who is an excellent listener. She is the best listener I ever met. Every time I see her, she reminds me that she's there for me, and while she might not be able to do many other things anymore, she's here to listen. She says: You go ahead and talk, I'll be your container. She is also genuinely curious. Sometimes I feel bad for unloading all my thoughts on her, but she keeps reconfirming that listening to my story is what she can do to help."
It was a very touching story, and we thanked her profoundly for sharing it with us.
I knew I had learned what I needed to know:
The two key takeaway lessons for people who want to make sure they're perceived as good listener are
(1) deep curiosity about what makes the other person tick and
(2) an explicit invitation to share in a setting that makes the other person feel accepted and comfortable.
As a listener, when you can provide those two things, you are golden.
From personal and professional experience, I can say that developing effective listening skills takes a lot of time and practice, so keep at it - it will change your conversations for the better for the sure. :)
If this article sparked your interest, you can find more detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to be a good listener over at WikiHow.