How to Listen a Little Bit Better

We’re just over a month into 2017, and a lot has happened. Emotions and opinions are running high – there’s been so much discussion through politics, the economy, and social justice movements. Honestly, I think it’s great. Although I don’t agree with everyone (and believe me, I really don’t), the fact that people are sharing their opinions and beliefs is really amazing. 2017 is already coming off as “The Year of Discussion!”, and “The Year of Controversial Topics!”. While it’s incredible that people are feeling more and more comfortable about saying what is on their mind, listening is just as important as speaking.

I think that I’m an okay listener. In fact, I think that it’s a pretty underestimated skill, and I’m continuously trying my best to do a better job at it. But the thing is that when I listen to people, I sometimes end up doing a few no-no’s. I’ve broken these little mistakes down into categories of types of listeners below:

The Cheerleader:

I am this person a lot. This is when someone is so openly telling you about a problem or something that they’re going through and all you can respond with is something like, “It’s okay! You’ll get through it!” or “You can do anything! You’re amazing!”. While this is a nice way to respond at first, it’s not really doing anything. Sure, it might feel good at the start, getting all of those affirmations, but in the end, you’re kind of just belittling the problem or issue that is being spoken about. Anyone can just say, “You’ll get through it”. When a person comes to talk to you about something, you don’t always have to be the motivational cheerleader. You should give a little bit of a pep talk, but you shouldn’t make use those one-liners to sugar-coat whatever that person is going through. It just doesn’t solve anything, and the person you’re speaking with will most likely still be in the same spot.

The Minimalizer:

I’ve been a lot more cautious with this one as of late. In this listening style, someone will be discussing a problem, or an issue and you might feel the urge say something like “Okay, but it’s not that bad”, or the classic “Things could be worse, right?”. Major no-no! When people respond like this to me, it makes me feel like what I’m talking about doesn’t matter, and that the person I’m talking to doesn’t truly care about what I have to say. If anything, it’s like they just want to speed up the conversation so they can speak more. It leaves people feeling alone, and unheard.

The All-About-Me-er:

This is a tricky one. I think that most people do this, and think that it can be a good thing, but sometimes it doesn’t end well. In this scenario, someone will be spilling their guts to you, and you might respond with something like “Yeah, something like that happened to me too!”, or “Oh my gosh—I went through the exact same thing!”. At first, it might feel like you’re telling them this to connect, or create a shared experience. And that’s great, but it shouldn’t be what’s driving the conversation. When you start talking about the things that have happened to you, you’re literally talking about yourself. You’ve abandoned the other person and their problems. In that moment, someone might really need to talk to you about something, but you might be too busy redirecting the conversation to your own experiences instead of listening to what they want to share with you.

These are obviously hard categories to break out of. I’m still trying to divorce these listening styles. It takes time, and it takes learning. My one tip, though, is to try to be a reflective listener.

Reflective listening involves two major steps: listening to what is being said, and then offering what has been said back to the speaker. It might sound weird, but trust me, it’s amazing. When someone is being brutally honest, and open with you, it’s important to make sure that you’re on the same page as them. Taking in what they’ve articulated, paraphrasing it, spitting it back to them, and asking “Is that what you’re saying?” makes people feel reassured. It makes people feel like they’re being heard. Sometimes it even makes people realize that they’re not feeling what you said, and are feeling a different way—so it helps them situate themselves.

Listening is hard—but it’s important. We need to make sure that people are having their voices, opinions, and emotions heard, especially with what’s going on in the world today. No one is going to be perfect at it; that’s impossible. But the one thing you can do is try—try to observe whether or not you sometimes are a ‘bad’ listener, and see where you can improve. It might do you wonders.


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