Everyone in life wants to be heard—this is one of the reasons social media is so popular, as people can share their thoughts with a broad audience and receive feedback en masse. That said, those we want most to listen to us sometimes fail to do so effectively, and there is nothing more frustrating. We’re all guilty of being halfhearted listeners at times, focusing too much on what we’re going to say next instead of what the other person is hoping we’ll hear. Becoming a good listener will help to improve every relationship in your life; here, six tips for doing so.
Since many of us are simply waiting for our turn to talk, we can miss important points the person we're speaking with is trying to make. Before launching into your response, it can be helpful to paraphrase what you've heard. This way, your friend or colleague feels heard, and you can make sure you know exactly what he or she is trying to say before responding.
There's a gender joke that purports that men want solutions to the problems they discuss with others, whereas women just want empathy for whatever it is they're venting about. The reality is that there are times when all of us want solutions to our problems, and other times we just want to be heard and validated. When listening to someone, it's advisable to start with the latter—for example, "I empathize with what you're going through"—before launching into the former, "I have some ideas if you want to hear them. No pressure!" Obviously, we don't speak this formally to our friends, but you get the idea.
When you're excited to contribute to a conversation, it can be hard to refrain from cutting someone off mid-sentence. Everyone has had this done to them, and it's irritating and can make you feel as though your conversation partner is not actually interested in your half of the dialogue. Always wait until there's a pause in the conversation to offer your input.
This tactic will endear you to others more than anything else. Think about it—when someone asks you a lot of questions, you take notice and often feel flattered by the attention. What's more, actively asking someone questions will likely encourage them to return the favor, showing an increased interest in what you have to say as a result.
No one likes to feel criticized, and nothing will shut down a conversation faster—or derail it into defensiveness—than unsolicited negative opinions about actions, behaviors, relationships or thoughts shared. Whoever is opening up to you is hoping to find empathy and possibly help or advice—if you jump to judgment, you're offering none of the above and are therefore not likely to be the person they seek the next time they need to talk. Even if your friend is telling you about a choice or action you don't understand, the hallmark of a good listener (and confidant) is the ability to empathize even when you don't agree.
It's sad but true that, these days, it can be difficult to resist the siren song of an incoming text. Nothing, however, is worse than trying to confide in or debate with someone who is distracted by their phone. If you must check your phone mid-conversation for some pressing reason—it regards your child, for example, or because someone is supposed to meet you and needs directions—make sure you're not cutting off the person who's talking to you in order to do so. Instead, wait for the conversation to reach a natural pause and then say something to the effect of, "I'm so sorry, I just have to respond to this timely text quickly and then you'll have my full attention again" before shifting your focus. If the conversation is really important, putting your phone into airplane mode before digging in is advisable.