How to Really be a Good Listener

This article was written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board members Kerri Heard and Raul Rosales.

Listen to Build Strong Relationships

To listen — really listen — is so much more than hearing words. If we aren’t actively engaged in what someone is saying, it is easy to let their words travel in one ear and out the other. Listening respectfully means making the effort to think about what is being said and why. It is about really considering  the meaning behind words and how they represent the thoughts and feelings of others.

Really listening is important for your success in school and the workforce and is a key part of building strong relationships. It shows you value what others have to say. It demonstrates your respect. It allows for effective, two way conversations.

Listen and Think Before Acting

Thinking before reacting to something you’ve heard is hard. Especially when opinions differ. Whether your instinct is to yell, talk over someone, or say, “I told you so,” it’s sometimes hard to just sit back and listen.

But try to keep an open mind and listen to new ideas. Take deep breaths, remain calm, and consider where the opposing view might be coming from. This may create an opportunity to solve an issue in ways you may not have considered. Two minds are often better than one.

Listening does not necessarily end with the conversation. It extends to when you retain that information and when you later provide feedback on what is said. By doing this you are telling your parent that you were listening.

Share and Parents Will Listen

Consider opening up to your parents about the good, bad, and the ugly. This can be hard if you fear your parents’ reaction. Being more open about different aspects of your experience will allow your parents to really listen to and understand what’s going on in your life.

Offering insight into your thoughts and feelings may also allow your parents to respond with warm and encouraging advice when you need it. If you feel you aren’t being heard, or if you find your parents are eager to jump in with solutions, it’s ok to remind them, “Hey, I just need you to listen to me for now.”

Listening Takes Practice

Real listening takes practice and humility, especially when what we hear doesn’t match with how we view an issue. We must learn how to welcome feedback, to empathize with others, and to express our points of view respectfully. It’s easy to assume adults can’t relate to our experiences. But even if we don’t want to admit it, our parents were once teens and have important life experiences we can learn from. Listen to your parents’ words and consider their intentions. Think about why your parents might be offering advice and try to welcome it.

Remember, if all your parents know about you is your grades or scores — or when you mess up — that’s all they have to work with. They’ll learn to just react. When you share with them what you are actually thinking and feeling — and what you need from them in terms of support or guidance — they’ll more likely come through for you.

Give Respect to Gain Respect

When you listen thoughtfully to others, they are more likely to give you the same respect when it is your time to share. If you want your parents to listen to you, listen to them. All relationships involve give and take. Ensure you make an effort to show interest and respect during conversations. It may sound weird. But listening actually takes practice. So go on and really listen. Really.

Think this is an important message for your parents? Share “Keep Teens Talking: Learn to Listen … Not React” with them!

Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board

Raul, 17

“There are times when it is in your best interests to listen to your parent. When you do this you have to know the difference between hearing and listening. In a speech class, I learned a lot about this difference. Hearing is when you register that they are talking to you, and you may even be nodding or maintaining eye contact, but you are not listening. When you are listening  you are actually showing attention by not only looks but by “checking in.” By acting alive and possibly even adding to what they have to say (when needed) you are being a listener. Listening does not necessarily end with the conversation. It extends to when you retain that information and when you later provide feedback on what is said. By doing this you are telling your parent that you were listening.”

Kerri, 22

“In high school, I had no problem talking to my parents in detail about good grades and basketball wins but when it came to discussing friendships that abruptly ended or struggling with something in school, I was hesitant. Something in me just assumed that their smiles and admiration would turn into frowns when they found out that I struggled in math or that I wasn’t always a social butterfly and was sometimes insecure. Looking back, I see that I was wrong for thinking there would be such a disconnect. My parents were also once teens, meaning they too, struggled in their classes and at times, struggled to fit in.”

About Center for Parent and Teen Communication

CPTC is fortunate to receive editorial contributions from a range of multi-disciplinary experts, journalists, youth, and more.

Read more articles by this author

Get our weekly newsletter for practical tips to strengthen family connections.