How to Listen to Someone

"Listening is often the only thing needed to help someone"


You are not obliged to listen to anyone's negative thoughts or rants or their feelings. But if you choose to listen, then here are some tips:

  • People just need to vent out sometimes, they aren't looking for any solution, they just want to be understood. So resist yourself from being a tech support and offering free advice.
  • The quote "The best gift you can give to someone is your complete undivided attention" is quite true. If you can't afford to pay attention and are constantly on phone when the other person is talking, it's better to back out of the conversation altogether than to make the other person feel stupid and even more low.
  • People, generally, are quite insecure and afraid to talk about their problems or whatever is bothering them - they fear that they will get judged - and if and when a person is starting to talk about it, its generally after much contemplation and when they just couldn't hold it back anymore and when their anxiety is too much to bear. So when it seems that someone is being all negative all the time, chances are that they have only come to you after so much thought.
  • Telling someone that others have bigger problems(children in Africa starving) is the worst thing you can do - now this person who reached out after too much hesitation, who may already have a low self esteem, will judge themselves even worsely and stop reaching out to anyone.
  • If it becomes overbearing to listen to someone's problems/rants, tell them politely that you can't relate to it or these talks influence your mood too- "perhaps I'm not the right person to talk to about this".
  • Don't be rude and don't put down the other person.
  • Questioning back someone how can they even feel that way, when all is well, will just make the other person feel invalidated. Just because you question them, their brains which are wired that way wont magically flip the switch to a different set of feelings. Don't just say "Cheer up, you are just over thinking".
  • Their problems may not make sense to you, they may seem foolish or tiny, but that doesn't mean that it is any less problem to them. Understand that everyone's coping mechanism is different.
  • Do not go into 'Who's got better problems' competition and lay out your problems when they are trying to state theirs.
  • You definitely know how to solve their problems? Still wait, listen to them completely, let them vent it out all. Then at a later point of time, you state your solution casually, as if its not related to their problems at all- "I know its different for each person, but this thing helped me quite".
  • If you would like to help, ask them at the end how can you help them.

To the talkers:

  • One person can't fulfill all roles - not everyone can be your therapist or mentor. 
  • Everyone has their own right to set up healthy boundaries and they aren't obliged to listen to you.
  • If you sense disinterest from the listeners, take the cue and stop before your self esteem takes a hit.
  • Find other resources to reflect/soundboard - journaling or online forums or friends who are going through same thing and can relate to it.
  • Reach out for professional therapist.



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