It seems like our entire world is shouting and there are people in the middle of it all who badly need to be listened to whether they have a problem or just simply need someone to be with to lighten the load. Information tries to get at you 24/7, real information, fake information, and even almost-but-not-quite-true information. Statuses, headlines, tweets... all of it in one go can undoubtedly overwhelm us. I honestly wanted to write about listening because I really believe it's something I can work on to be better at on a daily basis.
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Proper listening is a rare commodity to come by these days. "Uh, huh" without the eye contact just doesn't cut it, let's level it up, shall we? We can start at the beginning, upon a meetup:
1. Put away your mobile device when meeting with someone even upon arriving to meet with them (unless you were trying to find each other). I won't pretend to be a saint on this one, even I struggle with it and there are nearly next to no conversations nowadays without referencing something on your mobile device with someone or needing to show them something online. It helps to try and do without it though. There's nothing like meeting up with someone without the distraction. It's almost a surprising relief these days to spend uninterrupted bonding time with an actual human being in the flesh.
2. If a phone call interrupts your conversation but you really need to take it, when it rings depending on how close you are to who you're with you can extend reassuring physical contact before answering that call. You can lightly hold your companion's forearm, gently put your hand on top of theirs, or put your hand on their shoulder and keep it there just to express, "One moment, I need to take this, but I'm still here with you," without having to say it. When the phone call is over with that effort made, the warmth of your pending conversation hasn't gone completely. Thank you to my cousin, Sam, for sharing that tip with me.
3. When problems are presented, don't interrupt with advice, stay the course and keep listening. Sometimes the best intentions can tend to railroad a good conversation. In fairness, you yourself might be hyper or a bit anxious while listening in trying to process the information. We tend to sometimes jump in too quickly to offer solutions when sometimes, in the moment, the person just wants to be heard and sided with first. The body of the conversation for the listener ought to be reserved for some clarifying questions only. The sharer ought to be able to continue first without being barraged by what he or she should or shouldn't have done. Hear the whole sentence at least, or for goodness' sake, the whole paragraph before jumping in. In phone conversations, though, this is sometimes difficult in WIFI, data, or overseas calls where the voices overlap because of the lag in data transmission. It might seem like you're interrupting in a phone call when the connection just really isn't that good. Take certain factors into consideration.
4. Even at the end of initial sharing, pause to wait for your friend to ask you something. Pauses in conversations are okay. Pauses allow the energy between two beings to balance out, feelings to adjust, and thoughts to fall into place. It's okay to be quiet with each other here and there, it proves you know each other well and being together in the moment is enough. These are also the moments of understanding. It's often best before stepping in with advice to try and see what specifically they might ask you to help with.
5. Ask them how they feel. Truly being there is being willing to hear how someone feels about their situation. Whether those feelings are right or not, light or heavy, on point or awkward, they have them and need to share them. It's also important to be gently honest if you disagree with the person who is confiding in you, but also take the time to affirm them in areas where they were right. Respectfully share your opinion and be gracious. Then you can also share your experience if you were ever once in a similar situation.
There's nothing that makes others feel so much better than knowing you were really "all there" for them without needlessly injecting too much of yourself into the conversation. I'm keen to do better. Because, you know, if we're all eager to be better at the loving skill of really listening, there'd be so much less strife in the world today.
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