Become a Listening Master, Step 4: Help The Speaker Feel Heard

Being a skilled listener is an essential step in becoming an excellent listener. But it is not enough. To graduate to the next level of mastery, you must help the speaker feel listened to and understood.

It’s not necessarily easy to guide how the speaker experiences your listening. That’s why this more advanced skill is the fourth one that we tackle in our Become a Listening Master blog series! To Help the Speaker Feel Heard, you will also use the skills we’ve covered so far (to catch up on the Listening Mastery path, check out the links below):

  1. Intend to Listen
  2. Listen for Understanding
  3. Read the Speaker

Now you are ready to tackle Step 4. 

Helping the speaker feel heard means two things:

  • Checking to see if you understand their meaning, and
  • Demonstrating that they matter to you.

This enables the speaker to fully experience the benefits of your listening.

In Step 3: Read the Speaker, you learned how to model, interpret, and respond to common nonverbal signals. Now, you are going learn how to

  • Check for comprehension
  • Deepen the discussion, and
  • Enhance relatedness with the speaker.
  1. Respond as you listen. Indicate active listening through small gestures like nodding. Use short exclamations, like a gasp when surprised or saying, “Wow!” when the speaker shares something big. Make sure that your gestures and exclamations appropriately respond to the speaker’s meaning, so no big grins as the speaker shares sad news.
  2. Paraphrase the speaker’s story. Restate what the speaker has told you, echoing their key phrases and emphasizing what they’ve stressed as important. Say “What I heard you say is _____. Is that right?”
  3. Ask for confirmation. Check whether you have understood the speaker by asking “Is that right?” Do this after paraphrasing.
  4. Ask open-ended questions. Ask short, simple questions (eight words or less) that don’t lead to yes/no answers. Open-ended questions invite the speaker to go deeper into their view of things. Use these and/or your own open-ended questions:– What’s important about that?
    – What have you learned?
    – What are some options?
    – What’s another way to look at that?
    – What else?
  5. Self-share, when appropriate. Share relevant experiences you’ve had or know about. Do this sparingly, concisely, and only when you think it will help the speaker to better make sense of their own story. The trick here is to relate to the speaker without stealing their spotlight!
  6. Thank the speaker. Do this when the speaker has told you something vulnerable, secret, or deeply personal. Name your appreciation for a positive trait they have shown by confiding in you. For example, “Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I really admire your courage in telling me.”

Use these techniques today when listening to someone. Afterward, write down three things that went well and one thing you want to improve for next time. The next time you use these techniques, make another 3-1 list. Keep this up, and after a week look back at your lists. What strengths do you notice? Where have you made progress? What do you want to do better in the future? With deliberate practice, you will grow into your best Listening Master!