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

Listening Skill #4: Validate with simple phrases.

When people feel invalidated or otherwise rebuked or rejected, they “act out” their feelings in order to communicate them in a different way. Sulking, tantrums, and the like—whether by toddlers or adults—are simply a way to say that they feel unheard.

So how to show you’ve heard someone? Use skills one through three, of course, but also keep in your back pocket some validating words and phrases.  Like what, you ask?

  • Of course.
  • That makes sense.
  • Naturally.
  • Clearly.
  • For sure.

All of these statements are short—three words or fewer—but all of them affirm a person’s experience or feelings as worthy and accepted—the very definition of validation. In conversation, incorporating those little phrases: “Of course you feel that way” or “That makes total sense” doesn’t necessarily convey agreement, but it does convey something even bigger: acceptance.

Listen to what’s not being said.

Listening Skill #5: Listen to what’s underneath the words.

Ready for ninja-level listening? Listen to what’s not being said. Maybe the speaker’s face doesn’t match their words—perhaps they smile while talking about horrible, vulnerable things. Maybe their body language changes suddenly—perhaps they cross their arms and slump their shoulders forward. Maybe their tone shifts—perhaps they start to sound defensive, skeptical, or mocking. What to do? You already have all the tools—follow your natural curiosity, listen with your whole body, and refrain from judging so they feel safe.

All in all, listening well is simply a matter of tuning in. Tune in to the person who’s speaking, tune in to your own curiosity, and tune in to your own possible judgments (and squash them before they fall out your mouth).

Good listening can be hard at first—it’s much more tempting to do something else simultaneously, talk about your own experience, or offer advice (which, when you think about it, is a form of judgment—”here’s what you should do”). But becoming a good listener is worth the practice. Soon, you’ll be so good at listening you’ll do it without saying a word.


Medical Disclaimer
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 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. 

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.