How to Be a Good Listener

Active listening is hard work. Here’s what to do – and not do – to be good at it.

Active listening is hard work. Here’s what to do – and not do – to be good at it.

Maybe your listening skills just need a tune-up, or maybe they need an overhaul. Either way, like other skills, you need to work hard to improve your listening. "You don't just sit down and play Chopin," says Donoghue, "You have to play scales and practice, practice, practice."

Here's how to practice becoming a better listener:

Break those habits. Now that you're aware of poor listening habits, identify when you do them – and stop. "Even if you're mid-sentence, catch yourself. 'Here I go again, giving advice," Donoghue says, or, "'Here I go again, telling my story instead of listening to yours.'" If you're really motivated to become a better listener, ask your friend to call you out when you're doing these habits.

SOLER up. Cooper teaches communication studies at the University of South Carolina in Beaufort. When she notices her students aren't listening, she tells them to "SOLER up:" Squarely face the speaker; Open up your posture by uncrossing the arms; Lean toward the speaker; Make eye contact; Be relaxed.

Paraphrase. Just like how good waiters repeat your order back to you, good listeners restate what they're hearing. While this repetition isn't necessary or efficient for every interaction ("I'm hearing that you think it's sunny out"), it's a useful tool for conversations in which messages could be mixed: "I'm hearing that you're upset I didn't go to your party," or "I'm hearing profits are up 4 percent, and you seem hopeful they'll continue rising."

Realize when you're not listening and fix it. No one is a perfect listener. If you find your attention has drifted and you weren't actively listening, be honest with whoever is talking. Communicate that yes, you're interested, but that you got a bit off track, so please repeat that last part.