It all started in primary school: a friend shared a harrowing experience with me and since kids love to share differences and find commonality, I thought this was part of normal conversation.
However, over the next decade, I’d come to realise one of my strengths would be listening to another’s stories, achievements and struggles that others may not hear in “normal” conversation.
Fast-forward to high school: throughout my senior years, people would pull me aside to let me know about something they’re struggling with.
Sometimes I would be shocked, confused, heartbroken or overwhelmed for them. But I was also thankful that they felt comfortable enough to share these things with me.
Most of the time, my friends just needed a listening ear. By the end of a short conversation, they’d say they felt much better.
Listening to another’s story takes empathy, patience and an open mind.
So how can we honour someone when they share their story with us?
1. Be kind.
Show kindness to the people around you.
I do my best to show my friends that I value them by making time to support them in their time of need.
Being kind is a gesture that can go so far. Perhaps make some new friends. You might be surprised what another has been through. You might even learn a thing or two!
2. Be present.
If someone is telling you about a personal experience, struggle or achievement, constantly checking your phone/laptop/computer/electronic device can be really hurtful.
If you make the decision to hear someone out, be there for the whole story.
Another way of being present, is asking inquisitive questions: what happened after you said _____? How did you feel when you achieved _______? Were you able to follow up with ________ about _________?
When we are present, we can have engaging and enriching conversations with each other.
3. Avoid minimising pain.
Yes, we’ve all got a story, but that is not an automatic invitation for you to tell them how much more you’re hurting.
Unless sharing common experiences benefits the person you’re listening to, allow them to speak without minimising their pain. Saying things like “I’ve been through that before, you’ll be fine!” or “Been there, done that!” are not helpful for some to hear.
When someone confides in you, brushing off their pain can come off as insensitive and in some instances, rude.
However, keep in mind that some people appreciate lightheartedness — just gauge what’s needed from previous conversations with that person.
4. Keep practicing.
Like any skill, it takes practice! For some of us, listening comes naturally and for others, listening can be difficult — either way, that’s okay.
We all have different personalities and personal experiences that may influence how we relate to others. By practicing our conversational skills and exercising empathy, we can greatly improve our listening skills.
These days, I straight up ask if what I say is hurtful or helpful. I like to be crystal clear that my words were received the way I intended them. If that wasn’t the case, I either:
- Ask for clarification on what they said.
- Admit I’m unsure on what to say.
- All the above!
Just keep practicing the last three tips, and you’re bound to have better conversations with those you care about!
Showing kindness, being present, practicing new skills and avoiding phrases that minimise pain can help improve how we listen to one another. I hope you found these tips useful!
When have you felt ‘heard’ by another person? What did they say or do that made you feel listened to or understood?