Many of us believe we know how to listen, and listen well. After all, it is a relatively simple skill, right? Yet, while about 96 percent of people believe they are “good listeners,” The reality is few have mastered the skill of listening effectively and empathetically.

Listening has several important functions. The first and most obvious is comprehension. The better we are at truly listening to what someone else is sharing, the better chance we have of fully understanding them. Conversely, a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what someone else says can lead to confusion, tension, and even violence. The second important function of listening is connection. The more someone else is able to feel seen and understood by you, and the more you feel like you truly “get” another person, the closer and more bonded you both will feel. This is useful not just in close intimate relationships, but also in the workplace, in social circles, and in online interactions.

“Active listening” is a phrase used to describe a type of listening that seeks to maximize both comprehension and connection. It uses techniques like non-verbal communication and to help both the speaker and the listener get on the same page. If you are looking to improve your active listening skills, here are three tips to guide you.

  1. Don’t try to fix the problem right away. Often when a loved one is venting or sharing their pain, they don’t want an immediate solution. Many times they are looking for a listening ear and some empathy instead of a fix for their problem. To be a better listener, try reflecting back what you heard someone say before you jump to solutions. By repeating or summarizing what someone else shares you will help them feel seen and appreciated. Once their nervous system has calmed down you can then try to find a solution together.
  2. Don’t think about what you are going to say next. To be a better listener, try focusing all your attention on understanding the other person’s point of view instead of thinking about counter-arguments or your own personal opinion on the matter. When all your energy is focused inwards you have less capacity to really hear what another person is saying and be affected by it.
  3. Try listening for underlying values and desires. When listening to a loved one express themselves, try hearing what is between the lines. Track both the content of what they are saying as well as what the content says about them as a person and what they value. Perhaps in expressing anger, your friend or family members are actually expressing a need for respect or personal space. If you’re not sure of the underlying value, don’t be afraid to ask.