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The Gift of Deep Listening and How It Works

Your daughter is upset because she wasn’t invited to a friend’s party. Maybe your partner is stressed about a work project that isn’t going as planned. Or your best friend just shared that she is struggling in her marriage. You want to help, but how?

It’s easy to fall into advice or fix-it mode with our kids, partners, and friends instead of really listening. We hate to see others struggle and want to jump in and fix things. But, often, the best way to help others grow and heal is simply to listen. To validate their experience and allow them to process their thoughts and emotions out loud. And there’s no better way to build connection and trust!

Research reveals that one of the best ways to navigate difficult thoughts and emotions is by sharing with a good listener. A Harvard study found “that speakers paired with good listeners (versus those paired with distracted listeners) felt less anxious, more self-aware, and reported higher clarity.” By merely feeling heard, participants in the study experienced more clarity and reduced stress levels.

Listening, like many things, requires practice, effort, and, most importantly, the intention to become a good listener. It requires clearing your mind from internal and external noise and possibly postponing conversations for when you can truly listen without distractions. Good listeners have three traits in common. They are attentive, empathic, and non-judgmental. They also do not interrupt or give unsolicited advice.

Here are three key elements of deep listening:

1. Avoid distractions—Set aside your cell phone or laptop and look at the speaker, even if they do not look back at you. Eye contact lets the speaker feel that you are listening.

2. Reflect what you hear to confirm understanding—During pauses in the conversation, you can say something like, “I want to make sure I understand what you shared. Is this right…?” This lets the speaker know that you are listening and gives them a chance to clarify.

3. Avoid giving advice and judging the person speaking—Push aside judgmental thoughts and listen without jumping to conclusions or giving advice. If you notice that you lost track of the conversation, apologize to the speaker for getting distracted and ask them to repeat.

High-quality listening is an essential but increasingly rare skill these days. Yet, it is key to fostering meaningful, supportive relationships. Yes, it’s tempting to insert opinions and dish out advice, but what may be most helpful is simply to listen. And there is no more generous gift than to be truly heard and accepted.

Jessica Speer is an award-winning author and speaker who focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Her book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), was released in August 2021. Visit www.JessicaSpeer.com to learn more, follow her blog, or connect on social media.

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