I like to consider myself a socially perceptive person. A significant part of that is learning from my mistakes. Over the years, I’ve observed myself and others in conversation and noted the things that could have gone differently.
I recognize that this might seem harsh, but I have always tried to never let pride become a barrier to my self-awareness. Throughout the plethora of discussions I’ve had with peers, family and teachers, I’ve discerned the factor that remains most crucial to a mutually satisfying dialogue: talking with the intention to listen.
No one tells you how easy it is to talk about yourself. After all, we want to share that gripping story from last weekend or tell you about our most recent life update. It’s challenging to actively listen when what we want to share trumps what others want to contribute. But, to be transparent, it’s so frustrating to put effort into a discussion in which someone else is merely using you as a sounding board. Conversations are two-sided, and actively listening indicates that I can respond with the context and knowledge of the speaker’s feelings. If I’m just there as an outlet for someone’s monologues, I feel unfulfilled. With conversations, what you put in is what you get.
Active listening is multifaceted: from one angle, you can derive so much about someone from verbal exchanges, and from another, the way you interact with someone says so much about who you are. When you speak with the intent to listen, I can guarantee you that the other person will be more perceptive and open to dialogue. We’ve all been the listener and the speaker, and thus we should all know by now that when you are cognizant of the other person and their input, they will return that respect. Listening is not only a reality of our existence, it’s an ability. It demonstrates your empathy, your genuine curiosity, your interest in someone else’s thoughts.
Cultivating our active listening skills will prove crucial in conversations throughout life. Whether nurturing connections with new friends, creating relationships with professors or maintaining a healthy balance within the company of family, active listening enables us to be more intimately engaged and involved in the lives of others. When we afford people our undivided attention, there’s a natural inclination to build and uphold relationships that we know will be fruitful for both parties.
What does inattentive listening look like? We’ve all done it, so it might be more conspicuous than we think. It might be thinking about the next thing we’re going to say, the next point we’re itching to make, while someone else is speaking. Maybe someone has shared something and you neglected to ask questions, affirm their thoughts or offer advice. Instead, your mind may have wandered and you’re onto the next topic before the last one was resolved.
Your most productive, balanced and rewarding relationships are most likely reinforced by active listening. One aspect of active listening is asking questions. Not questions that revolve around you or serve as a means to validate your thoughts, but questions that induce an answer free of bias. They’re questions that encourage someone to think and offer a different perspective; they should provoke someone to share something about themselves that you might not already know. Show your care and concern for their answer, your real interest in what you might learn from them. The most wonderful thing about relationships is what we understand about ourselves and others through thoughtful and meaningful discussion.
Something else we can do to actively listen is to let the other person know you’re paying attention to your manner of reaction. Holding eye contact is key; roving eyes hint at a roaming mind. Try not to make assumptions or interrupt. Wait until they are done talking to offer input. Acting prematurely can imply that you’re not thinking through what they’re sharing.
I might not have all the answers, but I do know that by incorporating this advice into my conversations, I’ve undoubtedly strengthened my relationships. Make active listening a part of your everyday life by giving the person you’re speaking to the same courtesy they’d offer you. Embrace being graceful in your exchanges and thoughtful in your responses.
Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She loves literary fiction, indie music and making Pinterest boards.