How to Be an Amazing Listener

A conversation with a good listener is like a good meal—we walk away feeling satisfied, happy, and nourished. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 5 ways to be an amazing listener.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
3-minute read
Episode #163

Good listeners attract people like an ice cream truck attracts kids. Why? Good listeners offer goodies even better than fudgesicles (if that’s even possible):  validation, affirmation, and trust.  In addition, skilled listening is one-half of good communication, which is the foundation of any healthy relationship.

But being a good listener goes way beyond just not interrupting or nodding your head until it’s your turn to talk. Here are 5 ways to make your conversation partner feel like you’re fully tuned in to their personal radio station.

Listening Skill #1: Create safety.

Making your conversation partner feel safe starts with two things: an open mind and keeping judgment to yourself. Just as immersing yourself in a novel requires suspension of disbelief, immersing yourself in listening requires suspension of unsolicited opinions or advice. And while judgments may pop into your head—you’re human after all—set them to the side while you try...

Listening Skill #2: Ask questions to follow your natural curiosity.

This is my favorite part of listening. When your brain is piqued, ask questions. Think like a journalist and ask what, when, where, why, how. Ask for examples. Ask for details. Following your natural curiosity by asking questions not only demonstrates you are listening and interested, but almost always yields an intriguing story.

For instance, this past week, the very first sentence a new client said to me was: “I think my problems started when the university administration told me getting stalked was my fault.” Whoa! Sentences like these are packed with meaning like a treasure chest is packed with valuables. Opening them up and digging around yields gems of great interest and great value.

Listening Skill #3: Listen with your whole body.

In many a kindergarten classroom, teachers emphasize something called “whole body listening.” It goes like this: use your eyes to watch nonverbals, your brain to think about what is being said, your heart to feel emotions, and keep the rest of your body quiet to show respect.

I love that listening gets formally taught to kids, but like the quadratic equation or the difference between fission and fusion, many of us lose it over time, especially as life gets busy. The result? We often try to multitask while listening—we half-listen while getting stuff done or staring at a screen.

But up to 80% of what we communicate comes from nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and posture. So when we multitask while listening, we miss all these signals. But refraining from multitasking is hard. Why? Because listening is largely internal, it appears passive. It may not feel like an activity unto itself. Therefore, involve your whole body to make listening conscious for you and perceptible for your conversation partner.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.