There have probably been plenty of times when your friends needed to vent, and there is nothing more painful than when you can't help them in their time of need. But whether you believe it or not, figuring out how to be a good listener is the most important thing you could do. In a society where we all love to voice our opinions on social media, sometimes, it's best to take a step back. There's more to listening than just sitting there and "kind of" paying attention; it's about being fully engaged with that other person and letting the speaker feeling validated while they express themselves to you.
It seems it takes a lot to get someone to truly listen to you. There is so much out there that can easily distract us, and it seems, that people (especially us millennials) actually get bored fairly quickly. According to an article on Dr. Don Friedman's personal website, Michael Nichols, PhD said this in his book, The Lost Art of Listening, “To listen is to pay attention, take an interest, care about, take to heart, validate, acknowledge, be moved, appreciate” While we might consider it normal to be distracted by everyday things while we are talking to our friends, why not change that outlook and conform to a new way of "listening" instead? To elaborate even more, here are six ways you can easily amp up your listening skills the next time someone needs a shoulder to lean on.
1. Don't Be Distracted
Get rid of that phone. Stop picking at your nails. Your friend is coming to you because they trust you enough to be open and vulnerable. The most respectable thing you could do is to be completely present and make eye contact. It's not easy for everyone to be open about their feelings, and if your nonverbals are talking louder than what your friend is expressing, then that's not a good thing. For myself, this makes me feel more connected to my friend because I feel like they are truly listening. It shows that they really care about what is going on in my life and they want to help any which way they can — even if it that means they're just letting me vent.
2. Talk Less
Sometimes the best thing you could do while your friend talks about their emotions and current events is to literally just sit there. Trust me, I know that that may sound strange, but for the majority of the time, when your friend asks to talk, it's merely for them to get things off their chest. Of course, it's totally OK to jump in when you feel like there is a pause in the conversation, but if you feel that you are starting to talk about your own life more than your friend's, well... you might want to switch it up. It's always good to ask questions every now and then as well; it shows that you really want to help and you're concerned enough to want to know more information about the situation.
3. Have A Thinking Mindset Not a Doing Mindset
When you are listening, you are thinking about what your friend is talking about. According to Arie Kruglanski, a social psychologist, and his colleagues at the University of Maryland in an article on Fast Company, there are two distinct motivational mindsets: A thinking mindset and a doing mindset. When you allow yourself to think, it puts the conversation and your surrounding in perspective. Absorb what your friend is by allowing your mind to rest while your friend speaks. It's really the polite thing to do.
4. Keep Your Nonverbals In Check
Although I already touched a little bit on this subject earlier, it's really this important, especially when you are face-to-face with your friend. According to an article for Lee Hopkins, a communication specialist's site, social scientists have stated that "verbal communication skills account for 7 percent of the communication process. The other 93 percent consist of nonverbal and symbolic communication and are called 'listening skills." The way you sit and position yourself is vital to how your friend perceives you and your listening skills. If you have your hands crossed and/or your rolling your eyes, your friend is definitely going to think that you are being closed off and not open-minded. Keep it light and simple. Don't be afraid to show an occasional nod or even a slight smile, depending on the subject at hand .
5. Listen With Empathy
There may be some of those fleeting moments that you may have had in your head, when you can't believe your friend thought that or did that. But, in the end, your friend is human and that's why we have buddies to vent to. If you show any sort of judgement towards your friend, you are essentially violating their trust. Before making any quick evaluations on your friends, try to envision what the whole picture might entail. An article on Psychology Today referenced a quote from the Dalai Lama that said, “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.”
6. Don't Try To Fix The Problem
This one is pretty hard for me. When my friend is in pain and is trying to find a solution for their own troubles, sometimes it's hard for me to not want to jump in to help them out any which way I can. But there is always a time and place for that, and when your friend is venting, it's important to focus on just listening, of course, unless they ask for your advice. If you want to try to help your friend, sometimes asking questions might put things in perspective for them. According to a Harvard Business Review article, Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist and author of Just Listen says,"Pose questions like, 'What are you most angry about?' and 'What are you really worried about?' They’ll feel heard, and you’ll get to the root of the problem."
After all, your friend needs you more than you know. Make sure that you are fully focused on what they are saying and don't let them feel judged for them opening up to you in the first place. Take these steps and try practicing the next time a love one needs to do a little venting. You'll be a listening pro in no time.
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