The following is an excerpt from the A Teen's Guide to the 5 Love Languages. Thanks to Moody Publishers for the permission to reprint the following excerpt.
Some people are rotten listeners. They listen just long enough to get the topic of the conversation and then proceed to tell you all their stories tied to that topic. Give them any conversation thread, and within minutes, they can spin that conversation so it’s all about them. How much do you enjoy talking to self-centered people like that? And then there are the fix-it people. If you start to describe a personal struggle, these friends give you a tidy solution. They’re skilled at analyzing problems and proposing solutions but not at sympathetic listening. . .
Want to hone your skills as a listener? Try these practical ideas.
1. Maintain eye contact. This keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that the person has your full attention. No eye rolling, staring vacantly into space, or people watching.
2. Avoid multitasking. No listening + texting + driving + cooking +finishing your essay. Remember, Quality Time involves giving someone your undivided attention. If you’re in the middle of something, tell it like it is rather than faking it. “I’m interested in what you’re saying. I’m super focused on __________ right now and can’t give you my full attention. Can we pause this conversation for ten minutes?” That’s a far more elegant approach than half-listening.
3. Listen for feelings. Listen not just for events but also for emotions. When you think you’re tracking, confirm it: “It sounds like you are feeling disappointed because of . . .” or “I hear your anger.” This gives the speaker the chance to clarify his feelings and confirms that you’re listening intently to what’s being said.
4. Observe body language. Some researchers claim communication is 93 percent nonverbal and only 7 percent verbal. Others slice that number differently, but the consensus is this: content is dwarfed by tone. As you read the other person’s body language, again ask for clarification: “You said you miss him, but you look mad. Do you have mixed feelings?”
5. Don’t interrupt. If you interrupt someone to interject your own ideas, you derail her train of thought, and she may never reach her destination. Even if you feel like you need to defend yourself or set the other person straight, zip it. Your goal? To understand, not to be right or to give advice.
6. Ask reflective questions. When you think you understand what the person is saying, check it out by reflecting back what you’re hearing, like this: “What I hear you saying is __________. Is that correct?” Reflective listening allows you to confirm or correct your perception of the person’s message.
7. Express empathy. The speaker needs to know that you get it. Let’s say Noah is venting to Rachel about their yearbook sponsor. As one of the editors this year, Noah is investing a ton of his free time in yearbook, in addition to the yearbook class period every day. By empathizing, Rachel is affirming Noah’s sense of worth and legitimizing his feelings.
8. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Key distinction: offer your services rather than tell the person what to do. Noah doesn’t want advice. He just needs his friend to be supportive when he vents. If he’s stumped and asks for advice, then Rachel could share ideas. No unsolicited advice!
Quality conversations take time and thought. In fact, you’ll spend twice as much time listening as talking. The payoff, though, is enormous. By listening well, you make the other person feel respected, understood, and loved—which is the goal of quality conversation.