“Be able to think, write, and speak for yourself; That’s all you will need in your life.” These were the final words my high school dean left us upon graduating.
Growing up, we are always told to find out who we are and to share that with the world. But a major part of being ourselves and being mature adults is having the ability to engage ourselves in conversations through which we connect and absorb what other people are saying. Think about it. We learned how to speak through listening to others engaging in conversations. But in today’s society, we are urged, first and foremost, to speak out, to get our names out there, and to be heard.
When I was in high school, I participated in an organization called Teen-Line, a non-profit organization that provides professional help to youth struggling with issues like violence, alcohol, drug abuse, sexuality, depression, and other issues affecting teens. To become a member of this organization I was required to participate in a 13-week long program where I was trained to engage in a simple—but often ignored—basic human skill: listening.
At Teen Line, my job was to listen. And, to my mother’s surprise, I learned to love listening. Becoming a great listener will take life-long practice, and I am, in no way, an expert at it, but I definitely have found helpful tools that have taught me how to become a better listener.
Here are three tips to improve your own listening skills:
Tip 1: Stay neutral
When someone is sharing something with you, make sure not to judge. The best way to do so is by being passive about what someone is saying until they are finished talking. That way, the person can open up to you without feeling judged. This will foster healthier relationships.
Tip 2: Stay engaged
Making eye contact with the person who is talking to you makes them know that your full attention is dedicated to what they are saying. I know you can text your friends and listen to the person talking to you, but that signals to the person who is talking to you that you are not engaged or do not care enough about what he or she is saying.
Tip 3: Let the person know you appreciate what they are saying
While you should always stay neutral and not voice your opinion about what the person is saying until after they have finished speaking, you should always have some sort of positive and reassuring comment to share with them after they are done.