It's a difficult thing to do. Listen. REALLY listen. The therapy community call it active listening, I believe. And it is - active, that is. Looking at it, there are 3 requirements as part of the process to true listening.
1st: You have to get yourself completely out of the picture. Completely. And part of that is being able to notice the thoughts that come up. To be able to see those too, see the judgements and the prejudices. Recognise that they're there and then swerve right round them. This means actively listening to what comes up in your head too.
2nd: Focus. You have to completely hone in on what is being said. On WHAT is being said. Not on what you think they're saying, or what you would like them to say, or what they should be saying. But what is actually being said.
3rd: Evaluation. Only when you're out of the frame and you are really hearing what's being said can real evaluation and response come up.
It sounds like a contradiction to say that you have to get out of the way AND focus AND evaluate - but that's exactly what happens. The process isn't effective unless all three are going on.
If you focus, but you're still doing it through your personal lens, you won't hear what's being said. You'll hear what you want to hear. You'll colour it with your own experience, prejudices and conditioning.
If you get yourself out of the way, but don't focus, you're just listening to an entertaining babble.
If you get out of the picture and focus, but don't evaluate, you get caught up in the emotion and the drama of what they're saying. Although the contradiction is that sometimes, it's necessary to get caught up in their story - it's a part of the focussing, really understanding and feeling what they're saying - what their experience is. But then you have to pull back and see what the mechanism is. What's the story that's being told. What is it REALLY. Is it true? What is the drama being spun? It's only when you can see it for what it is that you can say that the listening is effective. Because then out of that comes whatever is necessary to get them to hear what's going on too. And that's the purpose. There's no point in letting someone ramble on and on. It's pointless to just 'be there for them'. It does no good. In fact it does a lot of harm. It just digs the groove deeper and deeper. The purpose is to point them in the direction of hearing what it is they are saying. And that's different in each case.
Ultimately, what is necessary is for them to see that what they're saying IS a story. For instance, if the story is coming out of a reaction to physical situations, e.g. if someone is getting the crap beaten out them every night and being told they're a worthless piece of shit, then the story may run along the lines of: "I'm trapped, I've got no choice, I'm not worth it." The purpose here is to see if they can look at the story from a different angle. Because the best result (physically) is for them to get out of that situation. Just telling them to get out won't have any result, they'll just keep repeating the same 'I'm trapped' line. So you have to see it through their eyes. Exactly why they are saying that they're trapped, have no choice and aren't worth anything. And to do that you have to really listen to everything they're telling you - you need some detail. Then you pull back and look at how you can prod and lead them into looking at why their story isn't true. At the alternative. And there is always one.
The absolute purpose of real listening is to steer someone into seeing WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, why they're saying it and to realise the actual truth of the situation. To see through the story that's being concocted - that's just been whipped up out of the circumstances, conditioning and upbringing. To see that mechanism and hear the penny drop. For them to realise that it is a story - it's not the truth.
It's not easy to do though, mostly because there's an extremely strong investment in stories continuing. There is drama and intense emotion (the stuff of life) and it all spins out from the 'me'. All that drama and intensity keeps 'me' right bang slap in the middle. and the stories whip up and constantly point back to 'me'. Frustratingly, though sometimes they'll see that it's a story, there'll be a 'stop'............. and then they'll dive straight back in to another story but with even more intensity. Damn. Because it's really uncomfortable for someone to see that when you take away their story and their drama, there's nothing left. There's a lot of people who will continue in deeply abusive and physically painful situations because it feels more comfortable than giving up the fabrication. If they see that what they are is the story, then there's nothing left. And that freedom can seem very frightening and so the mechanism turns back and perpetuates itself with even more force and drama.
What makes someone 'stop' and accept the story as just that? No idea. The movement of life. Perhaps the story becomes boring - it's been repeated so often that the intensity dulls and there's a willingness there to look at it and drop it. It just wears itself out. Often though, what will happen is that the story gets dropped.... and then another one is taken up again straight away. Double damn. So the beaten victim becomes the fleeing victim then the 'recoverer', then the 'survivor', then the 'advocate' - the story just takes another character in a different fantasy.
It can be a very tough nut to crack - someone's story. And they've got to want it more than they need the story.