10 Ways To Improve Listening Skills For Friends With Chronic Conditions

Psychologist, Dr. Michael Nichols, and author of The Lost Art of Listening, highlights many people believe they are good listeners when in fact, they aren’t. Dr. Nichols notes not only are people distracted when communicating, they also have a tendency to interrupt.

If you want to improve your listening skills, try doing the following:

Limit Distractions and Don’t Multitask. Turn off the television, put your phone away, get your kids engaged in another activity and focus on the person in front of you. Don’t do the dishes, fold laundry, cook, surf the net during important conversations. Distractions and multitasking increase the opportunity for miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Focus and relax. Try to manage the distractions in your mind, and focus on the person in front of you. This can be tough at first. You may be compelled to reassure or offer solutions to the person. Instead, relax and focus, your only job is to be supportive through active listening.

Listen. Start with letting go of the need to reply to what is being said and simply listen to what is being expressed. Take in the information being shared. Your job is to listen to what is being said in the conversation.

Body Language and Nonverbals. Active listening includes eye contact, congruent body language, such as facing the person in a relaxed posture or seated position and leaning in denotes interest. You can respond with small nonverbals, for example, small gestures such as smiling, nodding and verbal responses of saying uh-huh, I see, I understand.

Don’t Interrupt or Use Insensitive Phrases. As mentioned previously, your only job is to provide support through active listening. Refrain from interrupting and from using the aforementioned phrases mentioned by Dr. Nichols.

Express Empathy and Compassion. Empathy is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experience and emotions. Compassion is the ability to understand what someone is feeling and wanting to alleviate their suffering. Listening can demonstrate empathy and is one example of active compassion; listening can decrease suffering.

Suspend judgment, advice and opinions until it is asked of you. This can be a tough one to manage. When we listen to others, we can be flooded with ideas and suggestions to offer advice, fix a problem, or share our opinions. Instead, focus on listening and waiting until you are asked for solutions and opinions.

Ask Open-ended Questions. When it’s your time to talk, ask open-ended questions. There are two types of questions, open-ended questions, which elicit information and closed-ended questions, which usually result in one-word answers yes, no, maybe. Close-ended questions give facts, whereas open-ended questions increase communication and expression. For example: Close-ended: Did you have a good day today? Open-ended: Tell me about your day today. Close-ended: Who started the argument, you or your sister? Open-ended: Can you tell me about the argument between you and your sister? Close-ended: Can I do anything to help you?Open-ended: Describe two things I can do to help you now.

Summarize what you have heard. When there is a pause and it’s your time to talk, summarize the main points, themes, or feelings you have heard and observed.

Offer Support. Instead of jumping into how to change, fix or solve the issues, ask how you can be supportive. Don’t assume the person wants advice, suggestions or opinions, so by asking you are respectful and focused on the person’s needs versus your own.