I spent a lot of my life not being the best listener. I cared about what other people had to say. I cared a little bit more about letting myself be heard. Maybe this is exclusively a “me” problem but I get the feeling that I'm not the only one having a hard time really listening.
Many of us go throughout our days feeling unheard by those around us. Sometimes we have to be assertive in order to be heard by others. And some of us may fall on the other end of the spectrum. The side where we appear to be listening, but we aren’t really hearing. This might look like nodding our heads as our friend is sharing about their lives (while thinking about our grocery lists).
My job as a counselor involves a huge amount of listening. It is important that people feel heard when they are sitting in front of me and sharing their stories. But I didn’t wake up one day suddenly a good listener. I practiced so that I could be better. I got better because I want the people in my life to feel heard and feel important.
How can we make sure people know we are truly hearing what they are saying? How can we make our significant others, our children, our friends, our small group at church feel heard and understood?
1. Be mindful and present. This is maybe one of the hardest things to do but the most important. If someone is talking to us we have to be present. That means pushing away the distractions, putting down our cell phone and truly being in the moment. Look at the person who is speaking and give them your full attention.
2. Be aware of “one-upping.” This is so easy to do and usually the person doing it usually doesn’t have bad intentions. Someone tells a story and we have one that relates so closely to theirs that we want to share. However, this can leave someone feeling ignored and like their story was not fully appreciated.
3. Say thank you. I always try to treat the words that are shared with me as a gift. Sharing your life with someone is huge! Being vulnerable is hard to do. If someone is willing to be vulnerable with you, honor the gift that they gave you. Even a simple “thank you so much for choosing to share that with me,” can go a long way.
4. Remember what you hear. A good gauge of whether you’re listening to something is what you remember. If someone tells you something that is important to them make that thing important to you. We can love on the people around us by remembering the things that are on their hearts and on their mind.
Maybe you’re living on the other side of this. Maybe you don’t feel heard by the people in your life. What you have to say is valuable and important. I hope that we are all able to find the people in our lives who we can be vulnerable with. Connection is so important and connection begins with listening to the stories that we all have to share.
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing