I (think) I am a good listener. This is what I learned from the Suicide Prevention Hotline training: listening means understanding. If you have personally went through an experience that relates to the situation- then you will be sympathetic, if the situation is totally foreign to you and you feel like you possess no relate-able experience, you will be empathetic. Either way, you will be able to communicate. Suppose someone was expressing that they were stressed out by saying something like “I am completely overwhelmed today!”- the best way to communicate your understanding is to respond with something the acknowledges what was just said- “It sounds like you are totally overwhelmed today”- I think a lot of us would say something like “if you are feeling overwhelmed you should (some way to relieve stress)” This rushes to a solution. The statement “I am completely overwhelmed today” was an invitation to talk about feelings and not problem solving.
A great improv exercise for improving listening is to repeat everything that was said before you speak. So even if you aren’t paying attention, your mouth must speak exactly what was said. This helps your brain snap out of the pattern of not listening.
An example conversation demonstarting the exercise:
“I am so happy today!”
“You are so happy today”
“Yes! I am, it feels great”
“Yes, you are, it feels great- what has got you so happy?”
“I played a fun game of vollyball”
“You played a fun game of vollyball, tell me more about the game”
If you genuinely try to understand someone else, they will definitely notice- I can think of no greater compliment then a good listener. Don’t worry so much about all the other stuff- this is the important thing.