"We are given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking" - Larry Alan Nadig
"Sensitive, active listening is exceedingly rare in our lives. We think we listen but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know." - Carl Rodgers, 1980
It is not easy to be a great listener.
It may take practice, but it makes all the difference. Listen to both yourself and others. Here are ways to become an empathetic listener.
Stop talking. You can't listen if you are talking.
Concentrate on what the other person is saying. Actively focus your attention on the person's words, ideas and feelings related to the main ideas and not the illustrative material. Listen to what Beyonce is saying.
Understand the other person. Try to put yourself in the other person's place so that you can see what he or she is trying to get at.
Avoid jumping to assumptions. Don't assume that you know the situation. Assumptions often get in the way of your understanding and reaching an agreement. See how people experience stress differently.
Recognize your own prejudices, be objective. Put your personal opinions aside and respond in a way that simply says the speaker has been heard but not judged. How well can you read emotion? Test yourself.
Allow for silence. Give them time to say what they have to say (write it down if you are afraid you will forget it). Don't speak too soon and try not to interrupt the other person. Ask questions. Do this to understand better and clarify or to show the other person you are listening. It is important that the speaker knows that you not only listened, but also heard and understood them.
Use open-ended questions. This encourages the speaker to say more.
The approach you decide to take will determine the type of information you will receive. If you approach a conflict with a genuine concern to hear the other person's issues, they will become more comfortable, and it is more likely that they will let their guard down.
Listen Actively. Check out these podcasts (http://www.wnyc.org/series/listen/) that discuss the different facets of actively listening and opening up conversations.