I think most people try really hard to be good listeners, but whether or not they actually are...well the jury's still out on that one. :) Have no fear though; providing an effective ear is fairly simple. Follow these steps and your friends will be banging down your door to come chat... 1) LISTEN. Shocking, huh? As silly as this might sound, this is the #1 thing people do wrong. For a million reasons, when people are listening to their loved ones, they tend to talk WAY too much. When a friend tells you that they want to talk, that's typically not metaphorical or sarcastic. They actually want to talk. So let them.
2) BE ACTIVE. I think people talk too much because they feel like they need to say a lot in order to communicate that they're actually listening. But there are all sorts of wonderful ways that you can let your friend know you're listening without taking over the conversation. Lean forward, make eye contact, ask specific questions, make listening noises (e.g., mmmhmmm, etc.), reflect back what your friend is saying (e.g., that sounds so stressful! Wow, that sounds tough.). This is what we in psych call Active Listening and it's one of the best ways to let your friend know you care and you get it.
3) HOLD OFF ON ADVICE. Men get a bad rap for always wanting to "fix" things. The stereotypical scenario is that a man's partner gets home from work and wants to vent and instead of listening, he jumps in and offers advice or perspective. I got news for you: WE ALL DO THAT, not just men. And it's not that advice or perspective is a bad thing, it's just that the timing of that advice/perspective is crucial.
Picture this: you come home from a bad day and vent to your partner. Your partner listens to you intently, asks questions to have you elaborate on important things, empathizes with you like crazy and gives you a hug. After 10 minutes, you feel like your partner really gets the hell that was your day. At that point, your partner says, "I can't even believe your boss today! But I'm sure things will get better soon. Would it help to set up a meeting with her about it?" Now, if your partner immediately offered that perspective and advice when you were 2 minutes into your story, you would probably be annoyed. But now that you know your partner cares and understands, this is welcome advice. See what I mean? Make sure your loved one knows that you care and truly understand before you jump in with the don't-worry-about-it's and advice.