One of the biggest issues people who come to see me report is that of feeling unheard. As a society we are not very good at listening to other people. More people are formulating their response to the person they are with rather than listening to what is being said. In fact there is more talking with than listening to in conversations.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn, way back when I was learning the skills of counselling, was to just listen to the other person. I found myself trying to answer everything the other person said, but that is not what communication is about. It is about one person telling another about something. Not everything that person says needs a response. If you listen to the other person there will come a point when they will pause, and you do not have to respond to everything that was said. You usually need to respond to what was said just before the pause. If you wait until the other person stops talking they will feel they have been allowed to say what they needed to say.
The next step in listening to another person is to respond in a way that tells the other person you have heard them. Perhaps you might acknowledge what they said. Do resist the temptation to then talk about your experience of this issue, or that of your great aunt, or cousin, or neighbour. This is about the other person, not you.
The next step is to resist the temptation to solve the other person’s problem. If you are concerned the other person may want help then ask them “Do you want help?”. Make sure you honour their answer. If they say no, then just acknowledge what they have gone through and commiserate with them. There is nothing worse than telling someone about something deeply distressing and having the other person immediately go into solution mode. It feels like you have not been heard, and that the other person does not believe you can deal with this problem on your own. Their response can feel patronising. The end result is you do not feel heard.
So the next time you have a conversation with someone, make sure you listen. No rehearsing your answer. No mind wandering. Just listen to what they are telling you. Acknowledge what they have said. Resist the temptation to problem solve for them. Do your bit to help other people feel heard and less lonely.
If you find yourself not being listened to by other people, try someone else and make a note to avoid those who don’t listen to you.