How to Be a Better Listener (It's Easy With This Conversation Trick)

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You consider yourself a first-rate conversationalist. You can finish sentences and pinpoint thoughts like nobody’s business. (You’re like Queer Eye’s unlicensed therapist, Karamo, but IRL.) Hate to break it to you, but your enthusiastic interjecting is actually getting in the way of the most important conversation skill of all: thoughtful listening.

Luckily, there’s a trick for how to be a better listener (or at least seem like one), and it’s surprisingly simple.

Before you give a response, pause. That’s it. Really.

According to the late psychologist (and author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff) Richard Carlson, it’s called “breathe before you speak.”

Dr. Kenneth Miller, Ph.D., gives a version of the method: “Before you respond in a conversation, take a breath. Not an enormous, loud, obvious breath that screams out ‘I am trying a new technique for better listening!’ No, just a normal, simple, ordinary breath.” Inhale, then exhale.

Dr. Miller says the technique can feel awkward at first, especially for people who aren’t comfortable with silence. *Raises hand* In that case, you can ease into it with just an inhale.

But why does the method work? For starters, it stops you from accidentally interrupting whoever’s speaking. The slight pause is a natural cue that they can comfortably continue what they’re saying. In a way, it allows them to relax; without the pressure of trying to get a word in, they feel more compelled to share their thoughts. 

Second, the pause gives you a chance to reconsider your own response. (Remember that old adage, “Think before you speak”? It’s actually kinda true.) Who knows? You might even decide to say nothing at all.

And voilà, you’re the best listener around.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...