How to Be a Better Listener So People Open Up to You

In a world of thinkers and talkers, there’s no shortage of opinions. Being that relationships are at the essence of why you’re alive, it’s very important to understand the dynamics of when and how to offer our opinions.

I’ve found that, depending on who you’re talking to, you can get an opinion in almost every conversation you have. We have to be very careful to pay attention to all the details behind the advice we’re given and not automatically convince ourselves That we owe it to our friends and families to always take their advice.

It’s human nature to offer our opinions. When we’re having conversations with other people, our natural tendency is to try to help out by solving their problem. But one of the toughest disciplines we can develop in ourselves is to train ourselves to not give advice. Most of the time, when people are telling us about things going on in their lives, they’re really just looking for someone to listen.

Most of us know what we should be doing, and very few times in our lives do we genuinely need more information in order to make the right decision.

More often than not, what we need is to flesh out the information we already have and gain perspective in order to move forward. In other words, when people are telling us about an issue or a problem they’re facing, more often than not, the chances are pretty high that they are just working through their own thoughts and trying to incorporate you in that process. If that’s the case, then your job is to listen and to probe when necessary. Don’t offer advice, because they’re not looking for it, and you will simply be disappointed when it looks like they’re not taking your advice.

More importantly, if you keep offering advice every time a friend opens up to you, then after a while your friends start feeling like you’re beating them over the head with your wisdom. Whether you intend it or not, you end up coming across as the high and mighty jerk in their minds, and you didn’t do anything wrong. You just offered advice thinking that was good conversation.

The other possible purpose of someone sharing a problem or issue with you is that they’re just looking to gain perspective. They may not even know they’re looking for perspective, but once they gain it, they’re grateful.

For example, if you tell someone about a story of a similar situation that you’ve been in or that a friend or acquaintance has been in, that might help them back up and see the situation through another person’s eyes. That’s often one of the most powerful things we can do in a relationship – help people gain perspective. We don’t have to give instructions for them to see our perspective.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is out for your advice just because they opened up about their life. Even as a leader, the people you lead are not always looking for you to lead them to some sort of solution just because they’re telling you something about their life.

It may be maddening to hold your tongue, but try waiting until they ask for advice. If they want it, they will ask for it. Every now and then (and I do mean literally only every now and then) we need to call out people close to us when they’re doing something unhealthy in their life, but more often than not, that’s not the case.

If you’ll learn to start being a listening ear that probes where necessary and a friend who helps gain perspective instead of trying to give everyone to a better version of life according to you, you’ll notice that leading people and building strong relationships will come a lot easier. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do.

Posted by Mike P. Taylor

Mike P. Taylor is an author, speaker, and coach who helps people find purpose so they can live and work with clear direction. He lives in Decatur, Alabama with his wife Sydney and their four kids. Learn more about him here.