I’ve cried in front of my master’s thesis chair/professor twice.
It had nothing to do with school, managing that was never a problem for me, it was when I felt that I was really struggling with everything else that was going on around me.
I felt completely comfortable doing this in front of him. It was cathartic, it hurt more to keep it in than let it out. Once I let my emotions out I felt calmer, more rational and readier to tackle the problems in front of me.
My professor never judged me, he never interrupted me when I was talking, and he never imposed his own views on me unless I asked him for his advice
I’ve a learned a great deal about how to listen from modeling his behavior and actually practicing this skill.
Other than a trip to Hogwarts castle, being a great listener is the best gift you can give someone.
I’ve found that people really appreciate when they are heard and able to say anything without fear of being judged. Here is what you need to do to be a good listener.
Put the Phone Away
There is nothing more off putting than trying to tell someone about your day, ideas, feelings, or why the introduction of Adam Warlock into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so important, while they are on their phone.
The point of listening is to hear what the other person is saying. You can never be truly engaged if you’re on the phone. Make the person feel like they are more interesting than the homemade falafel video from Tasty.
Stop Waiting for Your Turn to Talk
In order to be a good listener, you need to ‘suspend’ yourself. For example, your friend might be complaining about how her boyfriend is a total jerk.
And then you think, “hey! My boyfriend is a total jerk too, I want to talk about that.”
So, the rest of the time when your friend is talking you are only half listening because you are just waiting for your turn to talk. This is not good listening.
In order to be 100% involved in what that person is saying, the focus needs to be on them. Something might pop into your head that you want to bring up. Wait until the other person is done sharing everything they want to say.
People Don’t Always Want Your Advice
If someone is talking to you about a problem it doesn’t mean that they want you to turn into their savior and come up with a solution. Just because your friend goes on a rant about how awful their boss is it doesn’t mean they want you to come up with solutions on how to get their boss to respect them.
They probably just want to be heard and acknowledged. Instead of giving advice take the time to ask open ended questions and let your friend know that you are interested in what they are saying.
Try, “when did your boss first start acting like this?” or “what do you think you will do?”
Sometimes even saying “wow that totally sucks” is better than giving unsolicited advice.
Don’t Relate your Experiences to Theirs
About three weeks after I had gotten out of a year-long relationship a friend of mine happened to be driving through town. I told him about what had happened and how bummed I was. He responded with:
“Oh man that stinks, like, when I was in college I was seeing this girl for a couple weeks and then out of nowhere she stopped talking to me, it sucked I liked her”
That was not helpful
Everyone’s experiences are unique and different. My year long relationship was not even close to a 2-week fling. That just made me feel like I wasn’t really being understood. Your struggle is not identical to someone else’s, it’s usually not appropriate to relate.
If you do feel the urge to relate saying the following is appropriate:
“I hate to interrupt. I know we’re talking about you and I know that my situation is not identical to yours but do you mind if I share a similar story that you might relate to.”
Recognize that Your Mood Influences Your Interpretation of What People are Saying
We all get into conflicts and we all can have bad days which result in crappy moods.
Generally, if someone is mad at you we resort to two things, (1) silence or (2) violence. Someone tells you that you did something wrong and we hit them back with an “okay”. You walk away with your tail tucked under your legs and your head down.
Or you yell back and remind them that they totally flirted with some other dude at a bar four weeks ago and you’re still mad about that.
Silence or violence gets us nowhere.
If you can be a good listener when you are having a conflict with someone, especially a significant other, you are officially sexier than Ryan Gosling saving a box of adorable kittens from a house fire.
If you’re mad during a conflict take a deep breath. The other person is simply exploding with emotions because they feel that they need to be heard and have not been thus far. Acknowledge what they have said.
If you feel like you cannot respond in a rational and calm matter, especially in a heated situation, just say:
“This is a lot to take in right now and I want to respond in the right way, I’m just going to take a quick 10-minute walk to process all of this and then we can work on a solution”
What to Do?
Just like making 30 free throws in a row, playing an instrument, or hip-hop dancing; listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. It is perfectly fine if you are not an expert. Simply try doing one of the five things that were listed the next time someone talks to you. In a society where we are attached to our phones and slightly obsessed with ourselves, they will be genuinely appreciative of the fact that you listened.