7 Rules of Listening, Really Listening


June 24, 2012   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

A few days ago, I got a message from one of my best friends. She asked if we could meet and maybe have a little chat. I didn’t hesitate and said yes. It was great way to catch up.

When we saw each other inside the quiet little café we agreed on, she immediately went onto a sort of rant right after the usual pleasantries. She lamented about how she had this huge problem with a co-worker and how the situation was upsetting her and disrupting her work life.

I listened while she talked, and although we both dropped a few jokes every now and then, I can see that her work situation was definitely weighing her down. The “rant” winded down after a while. She then heaved a sigh of relief and said, “What do you think?”

It was my turn to talk. I expressed my thoughts and told her how I think she should deal with this co-worker, nothing earth shattering, mind you, just pieces of advice she probably already figured out but only needed validation.

After that, I joked, “So you dragged me out on a rant date?” We both laughed and she said, “Sorry, I just needed somebody to listen.”

Thinking about this, I asked the question, what makes a good listener? What does it mean to truly listen as family or friends pour their heart out or share their problems to you?

Here are seven reminders I think we could all use the next time someone asks us to listen, really listen.

    1. The Golden Rule
      Although I’m impatient at times, I genuinely do my best not to interrupt someone when they are talking. After all, we should listen to people the way we want them to listen to us when it is our turn to speak. 
  • The Place Matters
    As a self-determined introvert, I do not like stimulating environments. So when a friend wants to meet and talk, I suggest a quiet place with few distractions.
    Listening becomes easier when you only have to listen to one voice at a time. 
  • Your Thoughts Matter Too
    As much as possible, quiet your thoughts, that is, if something is bothering you, you can choose to either tell the other person first or let it go and wait until it is your turn to speak.
    You are less likely to listen to what the other is talking about and instead focus more on listening to your own thoughts if you do not make the decision. Because in the end, no will really listen. 
  • The Body Speaks Volumes
    We’ve heard it before: actions speak louder than words. Your body language shows how ready or open you are to listening.

    • Lean slightly forward to show interest.
    • Maintain appropriate eye contact to show sincerity.
    • Loosen up and smile as appropriate.
    • Do not cross your arms on your chest.

    Let your body project that you are there to listen and let your ears do the actual listening. 

  • Some Responses Are Appropriate
    A simple nod of agreement or an “uh-huh” may suffice when the one you’re listening to is asking for a response. But sometimes, open-ended questions work better, such as “how did you feel about that?” or “what happened next?” 

You also have to remember that you do not have to give any advice unless you are asked. Even then, when you honestly think that you cannot give any, admit it and do not pretend to know.

  • … Otherwise, Shut Up
    Especially when the other person is doing a lot of crying and hiccupping than talking, shut up, and just grab a box of tissue and a glass of water. Offer your shoulder as the other person occasionally blurts out understandable words and just nod or whisper “shh” when gibberish is all you hear. 

Most likely, when a person comes to you very emotional, they aren’t there for advice; they just want to be with someone they trust enough to see them at their most vulnerable. Don’t screw it up by repeatedly asking “What did you say?” or “Pardon. I don’t understand.”

I realized over the years that my ability to shut up at the right moment made my friends think I’m a good listener.
And the most important rule of all…

  • Never Initiate “Mine is Worse than Yours” 
    Over the years, I realized that the best way to help anyone who comes to me to share their problems is not to compare their problems with my own. You will usually end up talking about yourself and your own difficulties rather than actually listening to the other person.


This is a horrible habit that everybody has to watch for, whether or not you’re trying to be better a listener. Why? Because the other person will most likely end up hating you for making him or her feel worse rather than better.

Making people feel that their problems are less important because you had it worse before does not help anybody.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

In the end, it’s all about giving the other person your full and genuine attention. Because most of the time, your presence is more valuable than your words.

Written on 6/24/2012 by Glori Surban. Glori is a full-time freelance writer who likes to write about life, among other things, and blogs about the introvert personality and how to live through all the noise. Photo Credit: Run Ran

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