We feel connected to others when we feel heard and understood. Seeing as we only have control over how we participate in conversations and none over how others participate, this post is intended for us to reflect on how effectively we listen to others. 

Take a minute and ask yourself – How do you show up in conversations?
Do you tend to be a listener, a talker, or an observer?
Do you open up and lean into vulnerability?
Are you one that takes control of the conversation?
Do you feel energized or drained after conversations? 

It’s important to be mindful in our listening and in holding space for others. We can do this by bringing awareness to our own contributions to conversations. 

  • Interrupting- If you interrupt others or talk over them, you are not listening, nor are you being present in the moment. You are trespassing on the safe space of sharing. When we interrupt others, especially when they need to talk or vent, we are interrupting their process, their digestion, and their flow of their own way of working through their feelings. Strategy- Allow there to be a pause or take a deep breath before you respond. Silence in conversation doesn’t have to be awkward. 
  • Waiting to talk- If you are waiting your turn to talk or figuring out your response while the other person is still talking, you are not listening; you are preparing for your turn to speak. This does not allow you to be there for the other person because you are focused on what you want to say rather than on what is being said. Strategy- reflect back to the other person what you heard and validate their feelings. For example, you could say, “I can understand why you are feeling angry about the situation.” 
  • Advice giving- If you tend to offer solutions in a conversation, you may want to take a step back and focus on whether the person is actually asking for advice or simply asking to be heard. When we do provide advice, sometimes it is based on what we would do for ourselves through the lens of our own experiences. Our advice doesn’t take into account the other person’s perspective. Strategy – You can ask the other person what they need or how best to support them- are they looking for advice/ solutions or someone to listen and feel heard?
  • Positivity- We often want the other person to feel better and to ease their pain and sometimes we will use positive statements such as, “you have so much to be grateful for”, “it’s not a big deal”, or “think good thoughts”. However, when we sprinkle overly positive words, not only are we not allowing the other person to share their feelings, we are dismissing them by telling them how they should feel. It is not realistic to be overly positive and happy about every experience in life. We want to be able to experience all our emotions, not just the ones that are comfortable. In fact, being overly positive can be an avoidance technique to avoid the discomfort of tougher emotions. Strategy- acknowledge and validate the hurt, pain, and tough emotions the other person is feeling. For example, “It’s okay that you feel angry and hurt at this moment.”
  • Pressure to perform- Often we put pressure on ourselves to have the perfect response or to say the right thing. We may think that having the best advice, the most thoughtful response, or the most intelligent question to ask makes us really good at conversations. However, the pressure to perform the best in conversations actually makes the task harder. It can be anxiety provoking, less authentic and genuine, just like any other performance. Strategy- Be yourself, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. You can be honest and share that. Say something like, “I’m not sure what to say at this moment, but I can keep listening.”

As you reflect on how you show up in conversations, you can take a couple of these strategies to try out in your upcoming conversations. Any communication skill requires practice to refine just like any other skill. Be patient with yourself and continue to build on strategies while you are being mindful of your own contributions. 

As Dale Carnegie once said, “To be interesting, be interested.”