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How to listen — really listen — to someone you don’t agree with

Insert questions into a conversation at the right time

As you listen, questions will come up in your head. But asking questions can interrupt the other person's thinking and derail a conversation.

  • Always attend and reflect before you ask a question.
  • When you do ask a question to encourage dialogue, use open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no. Keep the questions simple without trying to impress them with your exceptional question.
  • Stay neutral in tone and content. A loud tone can come across as judgment.

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Listening requires mental work
We mistake listening as easy because it looks passive and instinctive, but in reality it’s hard work. Really listening (and not just appearing to listen) re...
Mistakes we make in conversations
Our general tendency is to:
  • Evaluate: We judge what someone is saying and agree or disagree.
  • Probe: We ask questions from our own frame of reference.
  • Advise: We give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
  • Interpret: We analyze others' motives and behaviors based on our own experiences.
What makes a great listener
  • Asking great questions;
  • Playing attention to the nonverbal communication;
  • Forgoing taking detailed notes to pay better attention;
  • Listening with the intent to understand, not the intent to respond;
  • Making people feel heard;
  • Following up on what matters.
The ability to be a good listener
The ability to be a good listener

The idea of being a good listener is almost a cliche. Yet, most of us are terrible at it.

Becoming a good listener is not that difficult if you know where to start and are ...

Focus on the person, not the problem

Our ability to solve problems is helpful in life, but it is the wrong thing to do in situations when people simply want to be heard, understood, and feel connected.

When someone is scared, angry, depressed, or just upset, they don't want to feel like something is wrong with them. When you give unsolicited advice to someone who is struggling, you make them feel like a problem. Give advice when someone asks for it, otherwise, hold off on your wisdom and instead focus on being present.

Unsing open-ended questions

Being a good listener is not about getting the facts about what made them upset. It is to be supportive, offer encouragement, and empathize.
Ask open-ended questions to communicate that you're interested in them. Avoid questions beginning with 'Why' and use 'What' or 'How' instead. Generic open-ended questions that work well are:

  • What was that like for you?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • How did you feel about that?
  • What was going through your mind?
Mindful listening

This constant, low-grade sense of urgency can impede genuine communication. 
Mindful listening - 
focused attention to what another person is saying, without judging or ...

Hear between the words

When you’re in conversation, set your mind to being present, receptive, and ready to listen with compassion. 

Bring yourself into the moment with a few deep breaths and ask yourself: What is this person communicating beyond the words they use? 

Use nonverbal cues
When the other person is speaking, just listen. Stay mentally active and alert. Use nonverbal signals like nodding or smiling to let the person know you’re tuned in.