I had dinner with a friend the other day to celebrate my cake day. And we did the small talk, cute gifts for me part but then I could see something was bothering her. Turned out lots of things were bothering her. And at first I tried to help pull her out or highlight positives or offer suggestions but then it hit me; I just needed to listen.

And listening is hard. It takes focus and self-control. It is so easy to hunt your brain for a similar situation that you can then talk about to show the person they are not alone. But the hunting takes away from the focus, you don’t hear as well when your brain is racing for your next comment. True listening takes all the senses and focuses them on the person talking. You see facial clues, hear what they are not saying, body language… all of that you miss when you are “listening” and checking your phone or thinking of your next comment.

And if you are really listening to someone you don’t need the lengthy stories; you just need the words Because? Why? Or I’m so sorry you are going through that. Because that is what they need right then, they need to be heard and valued.

Now later, on the drive home, when you can’t sleep in the night, or cooking dinner, you might mull over parts of the conversation and think of a few nuggets you want to share and that is great… share those over a call or text or letter… because they know you are thinking about them, you took their struggles seriously and you care.

But when people talk, stop yourself and listen. Really listen. And it is not easy to do at first, it really is a learned skill. But see what a difference that can make in your world.

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