Why do people want to be listened to? Well, sometimes it’s because they have something important to say, sometimes it makes them feel valued, and sometimes it helps them to see things more clearly afterwards.
Most people think listening is about paying attention and resisting the temptation to say things. Well, that’s part of the skill but another is learning to adapt your listening skills to the mood of the moment. The needed to listen to your partner are different to those needed to listen to an angry person, or someone who is depressed. Here are some examples:
Listening to Teens
As parents, or simply adults, we are used to guiding, shaping or directing the activities and thoughts of younger people. When a teen really want someone to listen however, the last thing they want is to hear someone tell tell them what to do, or say.
Of course it’s all about sensing the depth and intensity of the topic. The teen years are some of the most difficult and confusing we experience and talking to someone who knows how to listen can be immensely reassuring and helpful.
Listening blocks occur for all sorts of reasons. For example, if the listener says they went through something similar at that age, it may or may not be well received. Low moods especially in teens are quite painful. They may just want to share this, not listen about yours. Another common mistake is assuming the person is speaking because they want your advice. In fact this can shut a conversation down because it can give the impression you are seeking closure.
It’s about allowing them to stumble, and retrace, and to pause for thought. It’s not about using the time they speak to formulate your next response to them. If they are upset it’s sometimes about resisting the temptation to look for the silver lining and to share that space with them for a time.
It may seem ironic but saying very little can be received in ways that suggest you’ve imparted words of great wisdom. The fact that your body language is engaged and your ears are open is often more significant than any words you may impart. Silence can be a friend so don’t be uncomfortable with it. Talking through a problem often takes time to frame and reframe and your presence more than your words is of greatest benefit.
Listening to Anger
Having someone bellow in your face isn’t pleasant. For one thing it may look as if things could boil over into violence, but actually that’s rarely the case. Feeling threatened is different to being threatened and it helps to know what’s behind anger.
The root cause of anger invariably boils down to fear, frustration or powerlessness. Similar rules apply to listening to anger. Don’t try to over talk it. Pent up emotions need some time to dissipate. Depending on the person this could take anything from seconds to minutes. It’s actually quite hard to maintain full-on anger for more than a few minutes because your hormones and the all the mechanisms that support anger are designed for relatively short bursts of activity.
It doesn’t usually take an angry person long to get across what’s annoying them. During this time just listen patiently. Once the heat dies down you can seek clarification if needed. Outbursts can be intimidating of course, and nobody could seriously expect you to listen properly while a big red face is spitting anger into yours.
Allow space and remember the reasons why anger occurs. You have rights too, and you certainly have the right to walk away from anger if personal abuse is coming your way. There will always time afterwards to talk once things simmer down.