How to Spot a Good Listener [and How to Be One]

“We need to look before we take the vulnerability leap, and choose carefully who we open up to. If we share with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of a flying debris in an already dangerous storm.” Brene Brown

A girl looking very disturbed while sitting at a computer desk using a keyboard

Why is it important to talk to the right people, especially if you feel vulnerable because of the subject?

The right person will make you feel like a million. You will get a shot of additional energy for your plans. You will feel supported. You may have more clarity. The bad listeners, on the other hand, will instill more doubts within you, criticize your thinking, lecture you. You end up feeling sad, like a deflated balloon.

So before you spill in front of someone sensitive information about you, your family, or your weaknesses, before you share your just born dream (and those can be so easily extinguished or sustained); remember that you are in a vulnerable position. Is it a good idea to talk to this particular person? Was she supporting of you in the past? Does she know how to listen? Or does she constantly use Conversation Stoppers and Connection Killers (below)? If yes, it may not be worth it to share your secrets with her.

A good example of what supportive listening looks like is a life coaching session.It is held in the spirit of non judgement, encouragement and acceptance. A life coach takes a look at the situation from a distance, helping the client to see at all the possibilities, to be aware of their strengths, helping to set goals and steps to reach them. It is all about the client. Can we, privately, hold this type of space for our friends, so they can feel  empowered after talking to us? We all make various mistakes in conversations, (I still cringe at mine!), but with little effort we can make sure others have better experience with us.

Being a confidante is a privilege, and listening is the art we can learn.

Below is a list of conversation stoppers and connection killers. And a constructive way of turning them around.

1. Using the “i” word. “Interesting” without any followup questions, became at some point a cultured (or smart ass? ) way of reacting to an idea that we think is stupid.  The stronger opinions we have, the quicker we’ll blurt “interesting”.  These days it’s too transparent. So if you think what you hear is  interesting, ask more questions. It is an opportunity to open your mind. If something sounds crazy, stop and say: tell me more, can you explain, why do you think so, etc. The answer may open your horizons, or may be … really “interesting”.

2. Withholding compliments. Compliment a friend that feels down, and you’ll boost their confidence and ability to deal with their problem. Mark Twain wrote: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” People will remember it, even years later.

3. Distraction. Interrupting. If there is something else on your radar, and your eyes look for other attractions, or worse – you stare into your electronic device – your friend won’t feel listened to. Focus. Keep an eye contact. If impossible – you may say: “I’m really looking forward to hearing about it. Can we talk in 5 minutes? I have something urgent to finish and then I’m all ears”. On the other hand, if you are the one sharing a story, don’t be a bore. Or you will be interrupted.

4. Bringing up your own drama of inadequate proportions, while the other person is not done sharing. Reacting with: been there, done that and it’s not a biggie, or “My dear, you are complaining about this? Do you know what I had to go thru?” It is a dismissal of your friend’s struggles. Even if your drama was bigger, it doesn’t mean that your friend isn’t losing sleep over a smaller problem. Besides you are talking about her now.

5. Contradicting their experience. Feelings don’t  lie. If someone tell us how they feel, nothing will change that. Try to understand where the feelings come from. And see above.

6. Reacting with an outburst of anger.  Very often we may act angry but we are feeling something else. (fear?) Except that showing the other emotion would make us look vulnerable. So we prefer the other way. Anger is an instant connection killer. When anger shows up what can we do? a) Identify what it is exactly that you are feeling, and share your concerns in a calmer way (for the temperamental people it may be a daunting task… but it ‘s doable). b) after the outburst happens  “We should apologize. Doing it almost immediately repairs any social damage. Plus it has a calming effect on us, and being calmer we are more likely to notice our mistakes.” says Irvine in “A guide to the good life.”

7. Betraying someone’s trust. In other words: gossiping. If your listener used to say things like “don’t tell her I told you but…” or shares yours or other’s confidential info during friends’ gatherings,  this is a person that doesn’t have an idea how to keep a secret. Few weeks later you may hear your story from someone completely else, and with few changed details. Choose a different listener, even if you have to wait.

There is more- from Brene Brown. Watch her conversation with Oprah here