This One Skill Will Make You a Better Friend

How often do you say “I hear you” and really mean it? Truly tuning into a conversation shows people you care and strengthens your connection, so if you’re looking to keep someone close, you’ve gotta amp up your active and empathetic listening skills.

by | May 31, 2019

How You Listen Matters, a Lot

Empathetic listening goes deeper than that quick rewind we all do when we’ve tuned out and someone asks, “Are you even listening?” This style of truly tuning in helps you feel what they’re feeling, and the cool thing about humans is that we pick up on that shared emotion. When you take the time to really listen to what someone says — whether they’re excited about an opportunity or angrily grieving the ending of Game of Thrones — your feelings mingle. You get on the same level and can truly validate their experience. That combination of validation and empathy brings you closer in a more authentic way.

Active listening. Empathetic listening. Both are important, but it’s helpful to understand the difference.

Active Listening

Active listening demonstrates interest and encourages the other party’s continued speaking through words and/or body language.

Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening seeks to understand another person’s feelings and may or may not include demonstrative empathy.

Listen on Wellness 3.0: Art of Conversation | Joan Blades

Podcast: The Art of Conversation & Connection

Joan Blades joins Wellness 3.0 to talk about communication skills and conversation starters that build connection in your relationships and your community. Listen to find out six ways to have impactful conversations with people in your community, and three core value questions that will help everyone connect within minutes of sitting down together.

The Sweet Spot

As you can see, both active and empathetic listening show the people you care about that they’re heard and valued. If you listen actively, but don’t listen empathetically, they’ll know you heard them, but not feel that you understand them. If you do the opposite, they may feel you understand, but you become too wrapped up in your own emotions to provide important feedback. Here’s how to reach the sweet spot:

  • Talk less, try to understand more. Most people have a habit of prompting the progression of the conversation without really listening. Oops! If you’re focused on what you’re going to say, you’re not processing what they’re saying. Try to learn something. That’ll put you in a place of curiosity, openness, and receptivity, which is just more fun (and healthy!) anyway.
  • Focus the conversation on understanding their experience. What started this? What makes you feel that way? (“Feel” is a powerful word for this, compared to think or believe.) If you want to demonstrate that you’re listening, replace “that way” and “this” with the person’s point: What makes you feel that he’s going to propose? That allows you to understand the whole story through their experience and demonstrates interest in their feelings (aka the whys behind everything humans do).
  • Avoid “I” responses. “I think,” “I remember,” and “I feel” statements put the focus on you. They say, “Oh that’s great Kim, but I feel like this conversation should be more about me and everything I know.” It’s true, too, that when you use “I” statements, you shift your listening style toward your own self-interests and stories. That sort of feedback might not be what people come to you for.

  • Empathy > sympathy. They don’t always need to hear about how you’ve been in their shoes — they probably think they’re wearing ruby red slippers. Let this be about their experience in Oz, Dorothy. You want them to hear, “I get you,” not, “I get you, because I crushed the bad witch,” right?

Your Strongest Relationships

These powerful listening styles demonstrate your social value, which basically means people are more likely to seek you out for everything from wedding party positions to promotions — the experiences that strengthen your relationships. Within your circles, start to notice when and with whom you use effective listening styles vs inactive and casual listening (we all do it).

Think about your (probably least favorite) friend, relative, or co-worker who loves to tell stories about his or her experiences, ad nauseum. When someone shares something exciting, these people override the conversation with a spotlight stealer. You know how others feel about being around them, but they’re nearly impossible to escape — they’ve got a lot to say!

Contrast that with someone who doesn’t just ask how your weekend went, but remembers you had a big event on Saturday. They listen to and show that they care about your experiences by making you feel heard and valued. That’s probably who you want to be most often in your relationships.

Listen, we totally understand the need to tune out (especially on the aforementioned storyteller). Teaching yourself to at least notice how you’re listening, however, empowers you to use your new skills to strengthen the relationships you care about most. Strong relationships make life better — and that’s the magic we’re all here for.

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