Two of my friends are great listeners; one says it’s because she’s the middle child and the other because she’s the eldest. Well, I’m a good listener too and I’m the youngest. So there goes the birth order theory.

So what makes a good listener? Most important, the willingness to keep quiet while someone else speaks. But it’s not just listening that’s important; it’s being attentive and present. In this era of multi-tasking, it’s hard to concentrate on just one thing and keep your hands still. And yet if you’re really going to listen, you need to pay attention to what is said, making nonverbal gestures as well as verbal acknowledgements so the speaker understands that you’re following and encouraging the conversation.

Listening is not an innate ability; it’s a skill. And like any skill, it takes lots of practice to perfect. So why not start? Choose a coffee or lunch date and ask “How are you doing?” Then plan to listen. Ask questions that encourage conversation and focus your attention on the other person. Hopefully, it feels good to be a listener and you’ll try it again – soon.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle StoreClick here to order.

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Comment by maria zwack on August 8, 2009 at 3:47pm
I agree-listening is a lost art. People simply need to be heard. Period. Listening (with affirmation/eye contact) is rare. In my daily interactions, i sense that i can tell when someone feels "validated"--in other words when they feel they matter. That is an amazing feeling too.

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