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What makes a good listener?

04 February 2021 | by Guest

On "Time to Talk Day" BPS member Linda Blair, a chartered clinical psychologist, shares some advice on how to be a good listener.

The key to being a good listener may sometimes feel challenging, but is actually quite simple: be genuinely interested in the other person.

And, if possible, don’t be judgemental.

It’s hard not to do that, but it’s the way to lead them to open up to you.

If it’s a stranger, the best way to begin is either with a positive comment, or with a question. If it’s someone you know, again, something positive.

John Gottman, who founded the Gottman Institute in Oregon, claims that the key to relationships lasting is to always start your conversations with something that is genuinely positive.

Not false, but genuinely positive, which allows things to go in the right direction.

What if it’s someone who’s really upset? That’s a lot harder.

In that case, you may need to invoke what therapists sometimes use, the power of silence.

Perhaps, a nicer way to put it is kindly listening. It’s just being there, and keeping calm yourself, by using your breath. Breathing in through your nose, really slowly, and out through your mouth, slow and steady.

You can breathe like this, and nobody knows that you’re thinking about it, but it will completely steady you, not just emotionally but actually physiologically, so that you look relaxed and receptive.

Very often, that will calm other people down.

Finally, never say to someone else that you know how they feel, because none of us knows how the other person feels and that might make them feel you aren’t really valuing what they’re trying to tell you.

You might say, ‘I’d like to understand more about you’, or, ‘could you explain that, so that I can see a bit more about what you’re trying to tell me’.

But don’t just tell them you know how they‘re feeling.

Really being listened to makes a person feel valued, and if they’re valued, that will have a really positive impact on their self-esteem.

I have a secret to tell you… that’s a lot of the reason people love therapy. It’s not because therapists necessarily have the answers, it’s because they really do listen with interest, and just being valued and heard, gives you such a lift.


Linda can be found on Twitter at @lindablairpsych

Her website is lindablair.co.uk

Find out more about Time to Talk and their efforts to help end mental health discrimination.

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