“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey
Think back: How many times in your life have you felt listened to, really listened to? Without someone leaping in to offer advice or minimize your experiences with an empty phrase like, “It’s not so bad”? If these moments seem few and far between, you’re not alone; though we as a society dedicate a great deal of time to learning how to express ourselves, we’ve allowed listening to become something of a lost art.
Most people, of course, mean well—they don’t intend to monopolize conversations and they genuinely want to help the person they’re talking to. They simply have no idea how to go about it because their own experience with true listening has been so sparse.
Mastering The Art Of Listening
Fortunately, listening is something anyone can learn how to do with a bit of practice and a few pointers; to master the art of listening, when someone comes to you with a problem, try to:
- Encourage them to keep talking. Don’t shut down the conversation with well-intentioned platitudes like, “Everything will be okay,” and resist the temptation to leap in and assert your opinions before the other person has indicated that he or she is completely done speaking. Instead, ask the other party to elaborate on his or her experiences and fully investigate his or her emotions. This doesn’t have to be a complex process; asking simple questions like, “Go on?” or “Has this situation been like this for a while” will often suffice.
- Avoid the temptation to make moral judgements. Remember, the most important thing you can do is just be present for someone else’s pain; unless they ask for you to help them make a moral judgement, keep the focus on empathizing with their experience, even if you wouldn’t handle their situation in exactly the same way. When you interject with judgemental comments, people become more hesitant to speak because they feel as though their normal human flaws and weaknesses are unacceptable to you.
This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything another person says while distressed—it just means you must remember to both let them vent and remind them prior to disagreeing with them that you will care about them and accept them just the same even if you can’t agree.
Remember: When you listen, the ultimate goal is to accompany someone on a journey through the wilderness of their own feelings, helping them to untangle things along the way and create empowered order. You’re not the appointed provider of solutions, so you shouldn’t expect yourself to “fix” the other person’s problems; you’re there to provide a pleasant, supportive catalyst that enables them to arrive at their own conclusions.