Most of us like to hear ourselves talk. We enjoy sharing information about ourselves, our jobs, and our recent activities. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless we spend so much time talking that we forget to actually listen to what others are sharing.

Being a good listener is an essential skill in maintaining strong personal relationships, whether with relatives or with our friends. Yet, too often we tend to believe that solid relationships just seem to happen. Having good friends takes some work and effort on our part, and a major element in building those relationships is learning how to listen.

Most of us have probably had the experience of having a friend clearly demonstrate he or she really wasn’t listening when we had shared something important with them. Their words or actions indicate that what we had to share simply wasn’t heard or understood.

Sadly, many of us do the same thing without realizing that we’ve put listening to what a friend is communicating on automatic, mainly hearing the words but not registering the meaning. That can be a real problem when what is being shared is truly important to the person talking to you.

So how do you become a better listener? A good starting point is to pay attention to how others listen when you have something significant to share. Try to note what a good listener, someone you appreciate, says or does to indicate that they’re paying attention to you and what you’re saying.

Next, do the same type of observing with someone who doesn’t really seem to hear you when you share something important. How do they show they’re not really paying attention? Are they distracted? Evaluate if your own actions favor those of the good or poor listener.

If your listening needs improvement, it isn’t difficult to become a good listener. Start by simply listening more than you speak when someone is communicating something important. Don’t interrupt with your own stories and ideas, even if you think your experience is similar.

Instead, take time to seek clarification if things were said you didn’t understand, and show you’re paying attention by feeding back key parts of the conversation. At the end, try to summarize what was shared to demonstrate you heard and understood the key points.

Being a good listener is an important skill and an essential element in building and maintaining strong friendships.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or www.counseling.org.

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