Listening to Understand, Not to React: A Guide

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“We need to talk” is a phrase that can bring anyone to their knees.

It’s something that many of us have heard at different points in time and from different people. Be it bosses, parents, teachers, friends or partners, it’s almost always nerve-wracking to hear. It’s no surprise, then, that on hearing these words, or anything similar, our defenses go up.

We’re prepared to do anything that is asked of us or to hurl back accusations to protect ourselves – even if it means offending the other party.

It’s not always about getting ahead of each other. Communication can make a world of difference when it comes to improving your personal and professional relationships. A lack of it can destroy them.

Work on your communication skills by:

Truly hearing someone out

Many a time, we listen to bits of conversation that we only want to hear. We pick and choose; we filter out things that don’t align with our opinions, beliefs and mood. It’s easy to do this. It’s also easy to zone out and put on the pretense of a listening ear—but it takes a lot more to be present and give someone your undivided attention. Your attention and your time are some of the biggest gifts we can offer one another. Practice attention and put away your phone and other distractions just for that moment of conversation.


Put yourself in their shoes. Are they going through something major? Is it a situation you’ve been in before? Or perhaps you can’t relate, but you know this person needs you to see things from their perspective. Empathy can be the difference between feeling heard and feeling hurt. Think about this the next time someone asks for your time.


Give them space to open up—and let them finish

Don’t interrupt – even if you have an eerily similar story or situation to share or you know someone who knows someone who knows of a person that went through the same. That person who’s opening up to you? They just want you to be there for them. Let them finish what they’re saying, and let them be vulnerable. Don’t impose feelings, project ideas or put words in their mouth.

Make eye contact and repeat what you hear

This is a trick that helps with any sort of communication. Evading eye contact can cause a disconnect and distance, which is why people breaking contact do it to avoid tension or awkwardness. Hold their gaze, make them feel seen, focus on them and, when you can, repeat what you think they said. The last bit helps contextualize things and clear miscommunication, too.

Make eye contact and repeat what you hear

Most importantly, listen with the heart as much as you do with the ear. You never know whose life you can change and whose list you’ll make! Follow motivational keynote speaker Steve Gilliland’s blog for more content! He’s also a premier Hall of Fame Speaker who can be booked for events.