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It can be challenging to listen well. Maybe you’ve received some feedback from your spouse or family about your lack of listening. Maybe someone caught you zoning out and confronted you about it. “What did I JUST SAY?” Or maybe you find yourself talking more than you listen, and it’s hurting your ability to develop close, intimate relationships.

We can all improve our listening skills. One of the benefits of going to graduate school for counseling is that you are trained to listen well. There is a set of listening skills that can be taught and developed. But how can we do it? First, non-verbals are important. Here are 5 ways to listen well with your body. They are easy to remember by the acronym SOLER:

5 Ways to Listen Well with Your Body

  1. Sit squarely. Sit squarely and face the person you are listening to. If your body is shifted so that you are facing in a different direction, it can communicate that you aren’t really interested in what the speaker has to say.
  2. Open posture. Be open in your posture. Don’t close up or cross your arms and legs—this can indicate you are closed off.
  3. Lean in. Lean in toward the person you are listening to. Don’t lean back and relax into your chair—this can communicate disinterest.
  4. Eye contact. Make eye contact with the person you are listening to. Don’t be weird and stare them down, but it’s good to make consistent eye contact during the conversation. Don’t look away or drift off into space.
  5. Relaxed. Have a relaxed posture. Don’t be tense—this can communicate anxiety or judgment about what the speaker is talking about.

Now that you are listening with SOLER, what are some other skills to listen well? Here are 6 suggestions to keep in mind:

6 Key Listening Skills

  1. Make listening the priority. One of the big mistakes people make is to think about their response instead of listening. You can’t do both. Focus all your energy on listening. Then, when the person is done, think about your response.
  2. Take your time. Listening isn’t something that can be rushed. Take your time when listening to someone. Don’t be in a rush to get somewhere else. Make sure you have some time and space to listen.
  3. Know your limits. Good listening is hard work, and it can take a lot of energy. Because of this, it’s important to know your limits. If you can only listen for 30 minutes, it’s good to be honest about that and stop the conversation once you have reached your limit, rather than getting distracted or nodding off.
  4. Don’t push for a solution. One mistake people make is trying to “solve” the problem. Most of the time, people aren’t looking for solutions, they just want someone to listen and understand. Don’t try to fix a person’s problem unless they explicitly ask you for advice.
  5. Paraphrase. It can be helpful to paraphrase what a person is saying to let them know you are tracking. When you paraphrase, give a short summary of what you heard the person say, and ask “Did I get that right?” This can help you stay on track, and it also lets the speaker know you are tracking with them.
  6. Empathize. Offering empathy is like paraphrasing, but instead of reflecting the content of what someone said, you reflect the emotion that you noticed. Use the acronym SASHET (sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, tender) and try to get to the emotions that you hear.

Discussion: What do you think of the suggestions to help you listen well? What about listening do you struggle with the most?

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