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Tips on being a good listener

Active listening

Active listening is understanding what someone is saying, without judgement or expectation.

In a conversation, it involves:

  • concentrating
  • understanding
  • responding
  • remembering what is being said

The following are some helpful listening tips from Samaritans:

Show you care

Focus on the other person, make eye contact and put away your phone. To listen to somebody, you need to give them your full attention.

This takes practice, so do not be too hard on yourself.

Tips to help show you care:

  • Find a private space to listen and talk where you will not be interrupted.
  • When starting the conversation, do not talk about yourself at all.
  • Aim to learn at least one new thing about the person who is talking to you.

Have patience

It may take time and several attempts before someone is ready to open up. It can help to let the other person know when you are free to listen.

The person sharing should not feel rushed. If they do, they will not feel it's a safe environment. Wait if the other person has paused during their response. They may not have finished speaking.

It may take them some time to think about what they are saying. They may find it difficult to describe how they are feeling.

Conversations are open to interpretation. Through non-judgemental listening, you are letting the person to relax into the conversation. They can use it to reflect, or work through difficult emotions.

Use open-ended questions

An open-ended question means not jumping in with your own ideas about how the other person may be feeling. These type of questions make a person pause, think, reflect and expand.

Open-ended questions let people open up a bit more. They often start with 'how' or 'what'. For example, ask, "How do you feel about your situation?". This can open up a conversation more than saying something like, "Do you feel depressed?".

What you're doing is letting them get whatever's bothering them out in the open, so they can figure it out. Other good questions to ask are "Can you tell me a bit more about that?" and "Tell me what you are thinking or feeling? I want to understand."

Avoid asking questions or saying something that closes down the conversation. Open-ended questions encourage someone to talk.

The conversation is a safe space for them and nothing they say is right or wrong. Try asking: "How are you feeling today?".

Say it back

Check you've understood, but do not interrupt or offer a solution.

Repeating something back to somebody is a good way to make someone know you are paying attention. You can check to see that you're hearing what they want you to hear.

Be brave

Do not be put off by a negative response. Do not feel you have to fill a silence.

It can feel intrusive to ask someone how they feel. You'll soon see if someone is uncomfortable and does not want to engage with you at that level. Sometimes it is exactly what somebody needs - to be able to share what is going on in their mind.

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025