How to Be a Good Listener

Feeling like you are listened to is empowering. Having your voice heard can make you feel like you’re not so alone — like someone understands — and that you have the power to change things. These are important things for someone suffering from a chronic condition to hold on to. If you are reading this as a partner of someone with endometriosis, they are feelings you can give. But how good of a listener are you?

I work in education and did a short introductory course in “basic listening skills” last year. I approached this lesson from a counselor’s perspective, designed to help with interactions with students. But my group quickly noticed how much these skills benefitted our interactions with our friends and family. I realized I took listening for granted and assumed I was good at it, unaware that it is an active skill that requires care and practice. Listening is more than just hearing what someone says. It is about understanding the meaning of their words, being non-judgmental, not injecting your bias into what they say, and showing them you understand.

The base skill to grow the rest of your listening from is tracking. It may sound like a selfish place to start from, as it involves focusing on yourself. But it benefits your conversation partner. Keep track of your thoughts and feelings throughout the time you are listening to your partner. It’s important to know what’s going on inside yourself so you can respond to your partner from where they are, not from where you are. This is especially important when communicating with a loved one, as your agenda can creep into your responses when talking with someone you share so much of your life with.

Allowing your partner to have the space between you, without bringing yourself in (aside from letting them know you’re with them), is silent listening. Silent listening is about having the intention to listen fully to what your partner is saying, without interruption. When pauses and silence are allowed, your partner is given space to open up and fully develop what they are trying to say. By not having to speak or listen, they can take time to reflect on their internal thought processes. This is a powerful skill that takes some practice but can take the conversation to places it otherwise wouldn’t have gone.

Mirroring is about giving your partner back what they say: matching their words, movements, and tone. The majority of communication is nonverbal, and the effects of mirroring someone’s body language is documented. Verbally, it is a way to let them know they are heard, and it’s also good for slowing someone down when they are talking fast or getting worked up. Mirroring also allows your partner to hear what they have said from someone else’s mouth, giving them a chance to reflect on it.

A good analogy for this type of active, empathetic listening exists in traditional Chinese writing. The character for “to listen” is “ting” (聽). It is made up of several smaller characters. The left side of the full character means “ear.” But listening is more than hearing — the rest of the formula lies on the right side. The right side contains “eye” (目) to remind us of the importance of body language and to be aware of the emotion that underlies verbal communication. It also contains “one” (一), which can be translated as “undivided attention.” The listener must be fully present and not thinking of a response to rebuttal. The bottom right of the character contains “heart” (心) to remind us to have empathy toward what is communicated.

The heart of dialogue is a simple but profound capacity to listen. – William Isaacs, “Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together”

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Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.

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