Everyone needs somebody to talk, vent, or cry to. Yes, being someone’s go-to can be stressful and you can feel a huge amount of pressure as the one on the receiving end, but it’s also one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. To be the person your friend chose to talk to about their extreme sadness, happiness, excitement, extremity anything over everyone else? As long as it’s reciprocated, who can beat that? It’s an art — and a lost skill, it seems. The first step is becoming aware that you simply suck at listening. And you need to get your head out of your ass and stop being self-absorbed. The best part of any relationship is gaining a person’s complete trust. And you can’t do that if they can’t even trust you to listen to their story all the way through without interrupting or losing your patience.
1. Do not just ask your friend questions because you want them to ask you in return.
“What’d you do last weekend? Nothing? Well, I had the best Saturday night…”
2. Actually listen when they do have a legit response to your inquiries.
It’s best not to just wait for your turn to talk. This seems simple but it is key. Do not just show the initial interest but make sure you carry it throughout. You care about this person and you care about their answer. I have a friend that goes on twenty minute long tangents and when she finally asks me a question, she loses interest, simply ignores my response and says something completely different. A lot of people avoid her for this reason.
3. Make eye contact.
Do not be looking behind that person staring off into space thinking about what you’re having for dinner tonight or when your boyfriend’s going to text you. Do not look over at other people having a conversation. Or away in boredom. It’s insulting and the other person can actually tell, since you are their sole focus at that moment.
4. Resist the urge to say generic things in between or throughout someone’s talking.
Examples include “mmhmm”, “ohhh”, and “yeah” every other sentence. It’s the worst when someone is interrupting your flow with their own background noise. Not only is it distracting but it sounds like they are just enamored with their own voice. Also: elaborate/constant nodding is just…visually offensive.
5. If you’re listening well, you’ll be able to remind the speaker if they were interrupted by you or another person where they left off, so they can pick the story up again
Even come up with a specific example. There have been an unspeakable amount of times where I’ve been telling a good story — I mean something really juicy — got rudely interrupted, and then the topic was changed immediately after. Unfortunately I’ve found it’s even more heartbreaking to watch happen to somebody in a group setting. Just watch for it and it’ll be easy enough to spot.
6. Try not to interrupt a story or rant with a totally different subject in the first place
This should be obvious but once in a while I’ve found those that are so overeager with the amount of important thoughts brimming over in their heads that they can’t contain them any longer. Sadly, it can be very frustrating to the speaker as it suddenly dawns on them that they don’t have your full attention.
7. At all costs avoid the knee-jerk immediate generic response after someone’s told you a) something that really matters to them, b) something that leaves them vulnerable, or c) both of the above
Take your time to think of something that is honest, genuine, and appropriate to what is being said. It’s not too hard, trust me.
8. Listen to the entire thing before you decide to make snap judgments or calls about the situation
Do no act like you know anything about it until they have completely and totally finished their monologue.
9. Sometimes it’s okay to ask questions out of outrage or to clarify something
This can include but is not limited to statements such as: “Wait…are you kidding me? Did he really!” or “Wow, I can’t believe it, how exactly did that happen?” It shows that you’re really invested in what that person has to say.
10. However, don’t JUST ask questions
A series of questions is both tiresome for the speaker and meaningless if there are no words behind it. This isn’t an interview. The person didn’t ask to be berated. Plus if you were really listening, your potential question would probably be answered in a few minutes. So it might pay off to wait.
11. Put yourself in that person’s shoes
Try to understand what they’re feeling and similarly, what you would feel in that situation. It’s the easiest way to react appropriately. This is also an obvious, age old trick but too often forgotten.
12. If you’re asked, contribute maybe once or twice with what you would do in this situation
It is possible that this person isn’t looking for advice or your expertise but just a listening, patient ear. It’s difficult to find these days, I hear.
13. Connect it to your own experiences
This can show that person how much you understand. If you don’t have your own, point out another similar example of someone you know who’s been through something similar. But PLEASE do not then make it all about you.
14. NEVER ask questions like “Is that all?” “Do you want to talk about it more?” “Do you have anything else to say about it?”
Or worse, initiate a change of topic after someone has vented to you. You should probably wait for them to do so unless it is obvious the subject is over and the speaker is at a loss on how to continue.
15. Try not to remain too neutral
Let that person know you are on their side and what they’re saying matters to you and has significance.
16. Try to stay away from “I don’t know what to say.”, “Wow, that sucks.”, “What am I supposed to tell you?”
The speaker will then subsequently realize that you were the wrong person to go to. This can be very depressing, because they’ve wasted time, thoughts, and feelings on someone who can’t even formulate a useful word on their behalf.
17. Offer up a listening ear for them any time in the future
Make it obvious that they can come to you anytime if they need anything further and that you’re there for them. They’ll probably apologize for going on so much about themselves, thank you, and ask you about yourself but first make it clear that listening wasn’t an inconvenience. It’s important for them to feel like they’re not pathetic and didn’t waste your time. We’ve all been on the other end when somebody acts like you just unloaded on them unnecessarily and they couldn’t be more irritated.
18. Emphasize how much you care about them
At the end of a rant or a particularly sad story, try leaving them in a more positive attitude than they started with by encouraging them that they will do better or praising them for how they handled something particularly rough. Reassure them that you won’t be telling anyone else and you were the right person to come to.
19. Pay attention to the small details,
Those sometimes matter most of all.
20. Do not, whatever you do, do not take our your phone.
This includes to: look at the time, Snapchat your BFF, or text back your current crush. You’re already in the negative if you’ve had your phone out the whole time. Looking up every so often to agree or ask a vague question doesn’t count as a conversation. It’s called talking to that person’s phone.