A good listener is able to be totally present and focused while the other person is talking. “We can be present by listening and resisting the temptation to interpret, assume, predict, or come up with a reply while the person is still talking,” licensed therapist Steph Tuazon, LCSW, recently told mbg.
To Tuazon’s point, you can tell you’re not actually listening to the other person if, while they’re talking, you’re also thinking about what you want to say in response. If you’re in your head analyzing their words as they’re still speaking—or worse, trying to interrupt them to insert your own comments—that’s a big sign that you’re not listening well.
Why? Because your focus is actually on getting your own point across (or proving your point right, or proving your partner’s point wrong), rather than actually understanding what’s being said to you, and making sure the speaker feels understood—the biggest marks of a good listener.
To know if you truly understand your partner’s point, Tuazon suggests trying to repeat back what you heard right after they finished speaking. If you can’t repeat what they said accurately, then you weren’t actually listening.
Another great test for you: After a tense conversation or argument with your partner (or whoever), see if you can accurately explain their perspective to another person—importantly, without your judgment, interpretation, or opinions inserted into it. Why were they upset? What did they actually say in response to specific things you brought up?
“Not being present in a conversation can look like missing a whole conversation,” she notes. If you can’t really give a play-by-play of their side of the conversation, that’s a clear sign that you didn’t really understand or internalize what they said—in other words, your listening skills could probably use some work.