When you think about it, we aren’t really taught to listen. Listening is a skill. It can be learned. But it also needs to be practiced.
You can be the friend, colleague, and loved one who is really listening. Empathy comes more easily when you put away distractions and are really present with the other person. When you’re with someone, really be with them. It’s amazing what you can learn, and how connected you can be. And it comes with personal benefits, too. It is an opportunity to develop yourself: to be more attentive, empathic and self-expressive.
This checklist will help you avoid distractions and create situations where you can really listen and show empathy.
Turn the video option on. Seeing each other gives you the chance to read the other person’s facial expressions and body language, making it easier to connect and to pick up on cues.
Remove your headphones or earbuds. Wearing headphones can give the impression that you’re not really there, or interested, even if they’re not connected.
Listen to your voicemail. If someone leaves you a voice message, take the time to listen to it. Sometimes messages contain extra information and hints that a friend really needs your ear.
Turn off your ringer and your alerts. You can say “I’m just going to turn off my ringer now.” This lets the other person know you’re prepared to really listen.
Pause the urge to check your phone or email. Resist the temptation to check for texts and email. Make a point of turning off your phone, putting it away or turning it over. This signals to the other person that you’re really there with them, and don’t want to be disturbed.
Find a quiet place to talk. Go to a space where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Having privacy makes heart-to-hearts more possible.
Maintain eye contact. The other person will notice when you look away. This can signal that you are not interested in what they’re saying.
Step away from screens. If you’re not on video, move out of range of screens like your computer or TVs. Screens attract your eye away from the person in front of you.
When you follow these steps, you create the conditions to let your empathy flow.
Kate Murphy (2020). You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters.
Michael Nichols (2009). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning To Listen Can Improve Relationships.
Active Listening Practice
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