Did you ever complete a conversation with someone and afterwards, feel really satisfied that they had listened and paid attention?

Likewise, how often have you experienced the opposite set of circumstances?

I have a good friend who, whilst she does listen, will become easily distracted by things that are very out of context to the conversation you are having. It give you the feeling she isn’t listening (even though she probably is). I remember recounting to her the final moments I shared with a relative who had passed away. As you can imagine it was an emotional thing to discuss. I found it really broke my state when she replied with a gasp and a chuckle at something her cat was doing.

You might think that perhaps she broke my state on purpose, to stop be being overwhelmed by emotion, maybe because she wasn’t comfortable with that emotion or the topic. These would be jolly decent reasons but it did break the rapport for me somewhat too.

So good listening can enhance the feeling of rapport. Knowing how to respond and gauging the mood of the person you have been listening to will maintain the rapport, and help the talker to realise you have been listening.

There are only certain circumstances when interrupting someone is alright. Usually it will give the message “I don’t want to listen to what you have to say because what I have to say is much more worth hearing.”

The instances when you can interrupt without causing negative feeling are for example when you have the kind of relationship with someone where you finish off their sentences for them. Or because you are interrupting each other out of sheer enthusiasm and each layering in another details to share with the other.

It’s also fair to interrupt if someone is about to say something dangerous or offensive though the person who was interrupted might not agree!

How do you show non-verbally you are listening? Your eyes are important but eye contact might not be as important as you might think. Many cultures discourage eye contact between different sexes/different social statuses. But overall what you do with your eyes is important. Even if you are not making eye contact, your eyes will show you are thinking, picturing what is being said or that you are accessing your emotions. You gestures can back this up too.

From a verbal perspective, a “hmm”, “uh-huh” and “ok” are ways to confirm you are hearing without either agreeing or disagreeing with the content.

I’ve met people who say “Yes” a lot when they are listening. I think this can be a little distracting sometimes for the person who is talking. Being a good listener is not about agreeing with the other persons perspective either. You can disagree but still lend them your ear. Likewise if you don’t understand say so, get them to explain it in another way.

Being a good listener doesn’t mean you’ll always understand what the other person is trying to say. Sometimes no matter how hard you listen, it may not make sense. You’ll prove yourself as a good listener if you are honest and tell them you haven’t quite got the gist of it.

Sometimes to check I have listened properly and understood, I feed back what I think I heard. It goes a bit lateral and having run their model of the world through my own references and experiences I say “Is it like this?” and give an example of my own. You have to be careful with this process though as if you do it too much, the other person may think that your one of those people who always tries to trump their stories with a better one of your own.

As the listener it’s important that you know the difference between someone going around in circles and either repeating themselves or giving many examples of the same thing, versus letting someone get it all out and offload. The latter has value.

When someone is repeating either the content or the context of what they are saying, you’re better to jump in and summarise. Let them know you have heard what they are saying and move on (towards a solution or resolution perhaps). They won’t resolve anything by saying the same thing over and over again. It will just compound their feelings and make them more stuck.

If however there is a trajectory to what they are saying, there’s a point when they will have finished letting it out, it can be worth while giving them the air time to do it. The reason why is that because often the solutions we need are hidden in the unsaid. From a therapeutic perspective, many clients I have worked with have problems because of some kind of violation of a boundary that they failed to enforce. When you give people the opportunity to say it all to you, it’s a chance for them to rerun the scenario but adding in what they should have said or done. This begins to build the muscle for the saying or doing of it should they find themselves faced with a similar situation again in the future.