Listening is a difficult, yet essential life skill. It’s easy to get distracted by your own thoughts, and completely neglect a conversation. This can make your friend or partner feel undervalued and ignored. When someone chooses to express their concerns or emotions with you, it means that they trust and respect you. For some, vulnerability is a strenuous process, as they fear rejection or invalidation. Be sure to make your friends and loved ones feel safe and appreciated by following these essential listening tips!
1. Ask questions as they come to you
Asking questions shows you are invested in a conversation, rather than passively participating. To truly engage with another person, you must express genuine interest in their thoughts. Questions are the perfect springboard to explore a topic, and hash out various emotions. That being said, make sure your questions focus on the correct topic. Asking a friend “Want to get lunch tomorrow?” when they are expressing anxiety over a test may come off as dismissive. Rather, you may ask: “What can I do to help you study?” or “What are you afraid might happen if you fail?” These questions expand upon the matter at hand, rather than diverting the conversation.
2. Wait until they are done talking to respond
Interrupting proves you don’t care about what some else has to say. You are so focused on your internal dialogue, that you neglect your friend’s feelings. Especially for people who suffer from social anxiety, being interrupted is a major no-no. It instantly devalues the speaker’s words, and prevents them from sharing more. Rather than interrupt, pay close attention to your friend’s thoughts. Avoid dwelling on what you will say next, and truly absorb every sentence. This will definitely demonstrate attentiveness, and make your friend feel valued.
3. Try to avoid talking about yourself (unless it's going to be helpful to the other person)
If you can take any piece of advice away from this post, it would definitely be this one! Every person suffers from a natural inclination to divert the conversation toward themselves. While sharing your personal story may be helpful on occasion, most of the time, it appears self-centered. Avoid the tendency to focus on your own experiences, and truly listen to what your friend or loved one has to say. Oftentimes, people simply long to be understood, and don’t need to hear unsolicited advice or relatable stories.
4. Create a safe space where they can feel supported and confident
We’ve all heard the term “safe space”, but what does that precisely mean when having a conversation? When someone chooses to open up to you, it is your duty to provide a judgement-free zone. Avoid accusatory statements or questions, and reassure your friend that you will be there for them, no matter what. Rather than express disdain for their questionable decisions, provide comfort and support as they endure challenging emotions.
5. Don’t be distracted- put your phone away
Going on your phone mid-conversation is one of the WORST things you can possibly do. It immediately prompts your friend to close off the dialogue, and suppress their thoughts. The phone distracts you from genuine listening, and proves that you do not care enough to provide your full attention. So the next time you find yourself chatting with a friend, resist the urge to check your Snapchat. I promise, your streaks will be waiting for your return.
Written By: Brianna Rauchman