Student newspaper of Kirkwood High School.

The Kirkwood Call

How to listen

Courtesy of MCT Campus

Courtesy of MCT Campus

Ian Madden, copy editor

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I have always craved connection, probably more than I should have. The most beautiful, wonderful way I’ve learned to connect with other people is listening. It satisfies my desires to understand, to empathize and to feel close to someone. Listening is a beautiful experience if it’s done correctly. I want other people craving connection to share in the joys of good listening, so here are some guidelines I’ve picked up from experience to ensure you’re listening the right way.

1. Be a mirror, but not unflattering like all the ones in my house.

It’s so easy to say “don’t be sad” or “you have no reason to feel that way,” but in my experience clichés are rarely helpful. Maybe the person speaking shouldn’t be sad and maybe their emotions don’t make any sense, but odds are they know and there’s nothing they can do about it. Instead of exhausting the person by trying to convince them of anything, summarize the general feelings or ideas they’re saying. Some phrases that always work: “That makes sense.” “I hear you.” “That sounds awful.”

2. Be a Jedi.

When someone’s angry, aggressive or lashing out, never rise up to where they are. Try to dismiss negative emotions like a Jedi and maintain an understanding and firm response. Replace any shocking, mean or horrible statement that comes out of the other person’s mouth with “I’m hurt.” They might be saying things they don’t mean because of a deeper pain. Wait until they’re ready to talk about what’s underneath all of the emotion. Don’t correct lies, call out generalizations or feel manipulated into engaging.

If they don’t show signs of calming down, firmly put the conversation on hold with, “I’ll be up for talking about this another time if you want.” “If you want” is key. It’s not “when you’re ready,” “when you’re less angry” or “when you can act like an adult.” It’s “if you want.”

3. Never give advice.

This one should be a relief because it puts way less stress on the listener. The best listeners don’t search through their mind thinking of things to say. They just reflect on what they hear. When someone needs help making a big decision or dealing with a problem, that person knows all the information, and they usually know the best solution. They’re just putting together all the pieces.

4. Try to empathize.

 The best way to make a connection with someone, to listen to their cry for help, is to really try to understand what it must be like to live their life. For lighter situations, relating might work, but if someone’s talking about a serious ordeal in their life you’ve never faced before, do not try to think of the closest experience in your life and compare it to their struggle. It makes the other person feel more alone and less understood. Empathy is looking someone in the eyes and truly hearing what they’re saying, trying desperately to figure out what they’re going through. It’s impossible to achieve completely, but the surest way to block it is by shifting the conversation to yourself.

5. Pretend you’re a reporter for The Kirkwood Call.

Sometimes people run out of things to say, but they still need to talk. That’s where the good listener steps in and gives the conversation some electricity. Start asking questions you think the other person would want to answer, such as “what happened?” and “when did you first…?” Like a good reporter, a good listener should not ask yes/no questions- they block good conversations. But unlike a good reporter, a good listener avoids “why” questions and sticks to “what happened” questions.

Asking why can lead to defensiveness if someone’s ashamed of what they’re feeling or embarrassed because their emotions might not seem justified. Also, between friends, “why” can be a dead-end question. It’s too easy to respond to “why” questions with “I dunno.” “What” questions are sensitive and completely “deep enough.” Questions, any questions, say, “I’m interested, and you are valuable.” And that’s what good listeners always strive to communicate.

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Student newspaper of Kirkwood High School.
How to listen