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6 Ways to Tune Up Your Listening

Gossip Human Eavesdropping With Hand To Ear.We all want to be heard, right? We have a human desire to be seen and understood. But how skilled are we at extending listening to others?

Here are six ways to sharpen your listening skills.

Be Present

Listening requires being in the moment. When someone is expressing a feeling or thought, try to stay present in your body and heart. This makes it easier to register their feelings and grasp their meanings. Empathy means noticing how another person is experiencing something.

Notice if you’re distracted by one of the following:

  • Are you in your head preparing your response?
  • Are you eager to show that they’re wrong or that you disagree?
  • Are you emotionally activated by what they’re saying, which makes it harder to listen calmly and openly?

These distractions are a natural part of being human. But we can practice being aware of when our attention is hijacked. This gentle awareness can lead us back to being present to listen to someone’s cares and concerns.


Amidst the pressures and demands of modern life, our caring for friends and loved ones may slip into the background. Relationships thrive when we truly care about each other’s feelings.

Felt caring erodes when accumulated resentment and hurt have created a wall of distance. Caring about others goes hand in hand with taking care of ourselves emotionally. We create a climate for mutual caring when we’re willing to process and communicate our important feelings. This enables us to clear the air and revive our active caring for a person.

Listening is easier as we hear each other’s feelings before an emotional build-up disrupts trust and connection. Couples therapy may help couples hear each other in deeper ways.

Listening with a caring heart is perhaps the most precious gift we can offer another person.


It’s easy to forget to breathe deeply and freely when we feel agitated or stressed. Breathing often calms our nervous system so that we become more present — and better able to listen.

There is good reason to remind ourselves to practice conscious breathing even when we’re not agitated. Mindful breathing gets us out of our head and into our body, which is a good place to reside when listening. When we’re distracted by thoughts about the past or future, we’re no longer present — no longer able to listen deeply and empathically.

Soothe Yourself

When we’re calm and quiet inside, we have more space to hear each other — we have a greater capacity to care. Breathing is one way to soothe ourselves. Another way is to attend to what we’re feeling as we listen.

Are we feeling sad as we hear about another’s pain or struggle? Can we make room for that sadness and be with it in a gentle way? Are we getting defensive? Are we imposing a demand on ourselves to offer good advice or fix someone’s problem? We’re better able to listen as we find ways to soothe ourselves as we attend to another’s inner world.

Soothing ourselves might also mean reminding ourselves of the power of listening. Our job isn’t to fix their problem, but rather to extend our heart and caring. When people feel heard, they feel less alone. They then feel more inner resources to find the way forward.

Convey Your Understanding

Let people know that you’re hearing and understanding them. You can do this non-verbally through your kind eyes, nodding your head, or uttering some affirmative sounds. Or, you can verbally tell them that you understand and that you appreciate them trusting you with their vulnerable feelings.

More than our words, people register our presence. If we’re listening with a caring, non-shaming, non-judgmental heart, people often feel this — and appreciate our gift of listening.

Listen to Yourself

Listen to yourself as you listen to others. Be mindful about what arises inside as you attend to them. Being gentle and kind toward yourself deepens your ability to offer the precious gift of listening to others. Noticing and holding your own feelings in a gentle, caring way provides a foundation for connection and intimacy.

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6 Ways to Tune Up Your Listening

John Amodeo, PhD

Dancing with FireJohn Amodeo, PhD, MFT, is the author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and Love & Betrayal. He has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for forty years in the San Francisco Bay area and has lectured and led workshops internationally, including at universities in Hong Kong, Chile, and Ukraine. He was a writer and contributing editor for Yoga Journal for ten years and has appeared as a guest on CNN, Donahue, and New Dimensions Radio. For more information, articles, and free videos, visit his website at:

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APA Reference
Amodeo, J. (2018). 6 Ways to Tune Up Your Listening. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 29 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.