When do you think you were last really listened to? Was it at your last work meeting? At the pub? Over breakfast with the kids? Most of us have had the experience of thinking someone has heard what you said, but not really listened to what you wanted to share. Hearing is easy – perhaps too easy. In one ear and out the other. Our work mates, friends and family might think they have heard your opinion about the local team, the news or your neighbour, but did you feel listened to? In therapy, the lack of being truly listened to is a common complaint. If no one really attends to what you’re saying, people can ask themselves, do I really exist? Over time, not being listened to can damage self-esteem because it can gradually feel as if you have nothing to contribute to a relationship.

The art of listening can be cultivated in most relationships, but it can take time to learn. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Avoid being defensive. Try to stop constructing answers in your mind as the other person speaks.
  • Reflect back what they have said. Use phrases such as ‘I think you just said …’ or ‘I heard you say ….
  • Cut out background noise. Turn off the TV and find a time to talk when you won’t be interuppted.
  • Listen to the song beneath the words. Do they look nervous, upset or irritated, even if the words don’t seem to match their mood.
  • Offer positive encouragement. Try ‘I really enjoyed your idea …’ or ‘Tell me more …’

If you want to be heard more effectively:

  • Think ahead about what you want to say. If it’s really important, make some notes to clarify your thinking.
  • Keep calm. Speak clearly and simply, sticking to your subject.
  • Avoid dragging other issues into the conversation.
  • Be honest and straightforward.
  • Speak as positively as you can. Avoid criticism and blaming.

Listening to others, or being listened to, is a precious commodity that can feel like a scarce resource. But it’s worth working towards and pays dividends in every relationship.