Becoming a Better Listener

“I have a brain that’s skating on the thin ice of anxiety, depression, depersonalization and just being alive,” said Larry.

I wanted to help people like Larry so I embarked on a journey to learn more about Listening Skills.


It boggles the mind how many qualities a Listener Helper needs!

They are:

Empathy—this is very important for successful helping.

It’s the ability to be in another’s shoes, to see their world from their perspective.

Gaining understanding of another’s problems.

Sincerity—being genuine means that you are what you seem.

Respect—to enable someone to talk to you about their issues you need an attitude of acceptance and respect of their struggles.

Integrity—act with honesty and uprightness in your dealings with those you try to help.

Resilience—helping people through talking is very demanding. You need strength of character to cope.

Humility—consider your own failings and remember you are NOT superior to the help-seeker.

Fairness—treat people as equals. As a helper strive to recognize any tendencies to behave unfairly and overcome them.

Wisdom—you need to be well informed and you need to have an open mind.

Courage—listening to difficult issues requires courage, you may feel out of your depth. You might have to compromise one value in favor of another.

Competence—is a combination of knowledge and skills and knowing when to use them.

Listen Carefully—so that the help-seeker can work out for themselves what the problem really is and what to do about it.

Assertiveness—the ability to stay true to yourself and what you think is right, to speak plainly and directly without being aggressive or imposing your ideas on another.


Then there is the problem of recognizing your own barriers to listening.

You bring your own history to the helping situation which can be a help or a hindrance. Your defenses protect your value system when listening.

Your defenses can be a BLOCK to the helping situation. Such as:

Judging others by your own set of values.

Advising—you need to be listening and just be present. You don’t have to search for advice because you might miss hearing about a person’s feelings.

Being Right and Comparing—your opinions and convictions are unshakable.

Listening is hard work because you’re always trying to assess who is more competent—you or the other person.

Filtering—you listen to some things but not others.


Sometimes you have to CONFRONT the help-seeker by drawing their attention to discrepancies and gaps in their story.

Confronting may be uncomfortable and you will need careful phrasing to prevent confronting being viewed as an attack.

Questioning can be tricky because it puts the client in a subordinate role or on the defensive.

If you have to question, use OPEN questions.

That means asking questions that encourage elaboration.

Such questions begin with how, when, what, where and who.

Avoid beginning with WHY? Because they tend to sound accusative and demanding.

You ask open questions to fill out the story and to gain a more complete understanding of the problem and the help-seeker.


It’s also important to encourage the client (help-seeker) to explore their problems.

You must consider the whole person in context to give you a better understanding of the problem that is brought before you.

Try to identify the signs of distress:

Body—is there disturbances in patterns of sleep and eating or symptoms of panic. Are there facial tics and body stiffness.

Emotion—is there strangeness of feelings or the person might appear withdrawn or listless.

Sensation—are there heart palpitations or shallow breathing.

Thinking—they might have disordered thinking which is a by-product of shock and stress. Until there is catharsis (releasing of emotions) the person may NOT think straight.

Behavior—the client can act erratically or be prone to obsessive behavior. They may be snappy and negative in their responses.

Spirit—distressed people become dispirited and lose faith in life.


A good Listener has to recognize issues that Cause or Result in Distress, such as:

Dealing with Change—many of the issues which present themselves to you as a listener helper are concerned with CHANGE.

Many people have never learned to manage change. Anxiety comes with change.

People become paralysed in the face of change (death of loved one or illness, etc).

Working with Loss—many of life’s changes involve some sort of Loss. Loosing health or loved ones or a job leads to negative self-judgement and self-esteem.

Dealing with Life Stages—the stages are transitions such as childhood, adulthood, employee, spouse, parent, pensioner, all involve adaptation and stress.

Controlling Unmanageable Feelings—negative thinking, mood swings, depression, etc. To be in the grip of unmanageable feelings is disorientating, worrying and extremely unpleasant.


Points to remember:

The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm—in other words, help yourself with the aid of a good Listener.


Criticism should always leave a person with the feeling that they have been helped.


It’s nice to know that when you help someone up a hill you are a little nearer the top yourself.


Now I need to get some practice with listening to peoples problems.


Also published on Medium.

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