Be A Great Listener!

Win over your date with these 6 tactics that show you’re totally interested (and, no, it’s not just about smiling and nodding).

By Isadora Alman

veryone talks about how important communication is to a relationship: Agreed! And listening is a key component of communication. But how exactly can you make a date know that you hear what they’re saying — and that you have a real interest in what they want to share? Let me give you my rules.

1. Pay attention
Dating is a getting-to-know-you process at its most basic. What better way to do that than listening? Listening is not just waiting for your turn to speak, but
Whatever interruption you bring up has got to be for the purpose of clarification.
being actively involved in the process and absorbing both the obvious and the subtle information being offered. You must have made some eye contact, exchanged a smile or two before now, or you wouldn’t have gotten as far as this date. Now keep it up. Keep your eyes on the person who’s talking. Note the body language. Respond with your own — smiling, nodding or shaking your head in sympathy when appropriate.

2. Stay involved
Verbal “I’m paying attention” signals might be brief interjections when appropriate. You can say, “How interesting/strange” or “What fun!” — or you can ask open-ended questions, such as “Really? Tell me more” or “What was that like for you?”

3. Don’t interrupt or derail the speaker
Some people, under the guise of showing interest, derail the speaker’s train of thought. “So when I was in high school...” says Speaker A. “What high school did you go to?” interrupts Speaker B. Others who interrupt think they’re being helpful. “So there I was breathing into a brown paper bag...” The other jumps in with “I know a better way to cure hiccups.” Hold your questions and comments until the speaker is finished, or at least pauses to take a breath.

4. Gracefully deal with a monologist
One exception to not interrupting the speaker’s train of thought is allowable. If you have lost the thread of a story entirely or if the other person is rude enough to be delivering a monologue so lengthy that you’re in danger of falling asleep, you can step in. In those cases, it’s permissible
Gently remind the speaker at the end of the monologue that you want a turn to speak too.
to interrupt with something like “Wait. I don’t understand. Was it you who phoned the police or someone else?” or “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying. You sold your house three times because two different buyers backed out at the last minute?” For politeness sake, whatever interruption you bring up has got to be for the purpose of clarification and continuing the story being shared, not changing the subject or taking over the speaker’s platform. Even if you have no interest in this very long saga, you would be adding to the rudeness by cutting the other off by saying something like “My sister is a police officer” or “Let me tell you about my own real estate experience.”

Someone who does more than his or her share of the conversational give-and-take could just be experiencing first-date dread of silence. You might gently remind the speaker at the end of the monologue that you want a turn to speak too: “I have some real-estate horror stories too. Want to hear one or should we go on to a more fun topic... perhaps what each of us is currently reading?” This gentle reminder that conversations need to be interactive and mutual might just solve the imbalance.

5. Reflect back what you heard
Do not defend. Do not attack. Most people, if they feel in any way attacked, perhaps by some generalization they take personally, will either defend themselves (“What do you mean men never ask for directions? I do”) and/or attack (“Men might not ask for directions but you women are terrible drivers!”). Unless you want to make a scene and end the conversation by leaving in a huff, simply reflect back what you heard: “Are you saying that of all the men you’ve ever driven with, not one was willing to ask for directions when lost?” This reflective technique also works in general conversation, not only to ward off arguments but to move away from potential conflict: “So you haven’t had many happy relationships with New Yorkers? I’ve always seemed to warm to Brooklyn accents.”

6. And if there’s nothing to listen to…
If you can’t get the other person talking beyond monosyllables and the silence is deafening, a good listener asks open-ended questions about whatever you’re sure is of interest to your partner. “I understand you collect pre-WW II eggbeaters. Tell me about your favorite and how you acquired it.” Even the dullest date lights up when talking about something that is of passionate interest — and even the most boring topic can become fascinating when spoken about with enthusiasm and delight.

Isadora Alman is a California licensed relationship therapist, a board-certified sexologist, author and syndicated sex and relationship columnist. Her “Ask Isadora” column has been running in alternative weekly papers worldwide for more than 20 years. Find her at She conducts her private counseling practice in San Francisco.
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