The ability to speak well and verbalise meaning, intent, and feelings is incredibly important. It is how we transmit ideas, thoughts, and feelings to people around us. The better we are able to express ourselves verbally, the better we are at making ourselves understood.
The ability to listen well is just as important as speaking, and sometimes overlooked. Listening is how we are able to accept someone’s speech and intent, and listening well is how we are able to properly understand what the other person is saying. Both verbal communication, and listening are skills to be mastered.
In some cases, listening well is important enough that it is a necessity. For example, counsellors must know how to listen well. This is even more important when considering that many people aren’t always able to properly convey their issues, thoughts, or pains.
You can employ several techniques to become a better listener:
As a listener, you have to rid yourself of external distractions (mobile phone), defocus on any stray or distracting thought (what you might have for lunch), and focussing on the person you are listening to. You can and should make an effort to show you are listening by nodding, for example.
Learning how to give someone your undivided attention allows you to be open to what they are saying, which will allow you to understand their intent and meaning later. It also allows the other person to feel important and secure, making it easier to open up.
As you listen, you want to be able to reflect back what is being said to the person talking with you. Not only does this show you are listening, but also that you are able to follow and understand the pace and progress of the person’s train of thought. Reflecting and providing this type of feedback gives the speaker positive reinforcement and encourages progress.
Refraining from immediate judgement
It is often difficult for people to communicate deeply felt emotions or issues; and often, people don’t have the vocabulary to describe these very complex feelings and issues. It is important, while listening, not to form immediate judgements about the person or what they are saying. Allow the person to completely verbalise their thoughts and emotions. You can ask questions afterwards to delve into more detail. Whatever they say is not right or wrong, bad or good. Allow them to communicate, undisturbed.
This will allow you to build trust with the speaker and yourself. People feel more comfortable around those they trust, and they may be able to reveal more meaningful and in-depth detail.
Being able to properly respond as a counsellor is important, but being able to listen is a prerequisite to even being able to respond appropriately and correctly.
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