Just Listen

I used to think I was an good listener.

But what does “good listener” even mean? What does it take to be a good listener? More than just ears, I’m assuming, since we all have them.

I love to listen to people. I’m interested in the lives of others. But with time, I’ve realized my method of listening isn’t always what is helpful.

I am a problem solver by nature. If you tell me your problems, I’m going to think of strategy that I believe might help you overcome your problem. I mean, if it is fixable, why not fix it? Why don’t we pull out a piece of paper and write out a plan to get you feeling better? Something that will heal your relationships or boost your self esteem.

Wait, not helpful? What else am I supposed to do? If I’m not trying to solve the problems you tell me about, I feel like I’m being useless.

It took a lot of conversations with my husband, Terry, to realize what kind of listener he needed. It wasn’t the problem solver he needed. All I really needed to say was simple- “I know it’s got to be hard.” “This is a really sucky situation.” “You deserve to be treated better.” “Your feelings are valid.” Or maybe say nothing at all, just be there.

It’s taken me some time to realize what a friend wants from when it comes allowing them to vent. Particularly with Terry, who I’ve always just wanted to patch things up for. One day he finally told me that he really just needed me to agree with him and let him voice his feelings without judgement or analyzing.

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Recently I remembered a book that I absolutely loved in high school, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. I remembered how I highlighted the pages because there were so many great quotes in it. Here are a few of my favorites, that make me reflect back on what it means to be a good listener:

A good listener waits.

“This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.”
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

A good listener hears and understands.

“There was no short answer to this; like so much else, it was a long story. But what really makes any story real is knowing someone will hear it. And understand.”
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

A good listener provides a shoulder to lean on.

“I was beginning to understand, though, that there were no such things as absolutes, not in life or in people. Like Owen said, it was day by day, if not moment by moment. All you could do was take on as much weight as you can bear. And if you’re lucky, there’s someone close enough by to shoulder the rest.”
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

Being a good listener is probably one of the most important qualities it takes to be a good friend. We need sounding boards and people who will let us air out some thoughts. We need people to just listen.

What qualities do you think are important when it comes to being a good listener? What does the person who you vent to the most offer that others cannot?

Today’s post is joining the thinking out loud party. 

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18 thoughts on “Just Listen

  1. Oh this this this. This is a wonderful topic and you present it beautifully. I have learned a lot about myself through being aware of how I listen, and by being aware of how others “listen” to me. When I am listening to someone and am not sure what to say, I just ask myself what I would want to hear. Sometimes – ya – I feel like all I want is someone to just tell me a solution and make it all better. But really, what we need – and all we can really offer someone sometimes – is empathy and understanding. I think the best way to listen is by simply offering things such as, “I hear you.” “That is so hard.” “I’m really sorry you’re going through this.” “You are completely valid in your feelings.” I know my strongest relationships are based on these types of listeners. And it is always very important to take turns being the listener!

    1. I feel like “being aware of how I listen” is a great place to start. I want to become more attuned to this so badly.
      It is no good when relationships become one-side (always the listener or always the talker). I’ve been both of those people and I definitely prefer when the roles are shared!

  2. Omg, first let me start with the book, I absolutely love Sarah Dessen and I love this book so much, I think it’s awesome that you pulled out some quotes too. Honestly, the best listening is when I know someone is completely attentive to what I am saying, even if they are not offering feedback. My boyfriend does this a lot, he will just ask me a question that keeps me talking but that doesn’t always offer advice, and it means a lot because I know he’s listening! He also doesn’t offer quick fix solutions, which is often what I want, but I understand that it’s not his place to fix my problems.

    1. This was one of my FAVORITE books from high school! I love that you’ve read it before!
      Sounds like you’ve got a great boyfriend! Guys tend to be so much better at just nodding rather than speaking! I am with you when sometimes I just want a quick fix.

  3. This is something that I really struggled with when I started health coaching as well. We’re trained to sit quiet and listen without trying to solve any problems right off the bat, which means there are a lot of silent moments during sessions. My natural inclination is to break the silence by saying something, but those moments are actually super important because they trigger the other person to break the silence first and open up more… which is where the magic happens.

  4. This is so good, because it’s something I really struggle with. I like to talk and ‘solve other people’s problems’, but I forget the verses that says, ‘Be slow to speak, quick to listen.’ Thank you for the reminder Kate. Thankfully God gave me 3 or 4 quiet people in my family who have and are teaching me the value of listening.

  5. Being a good listener IS so hard. I really try to be a good listener, validate others feelings,and just try to be there, but sometimes I still find myself just waiting for the other person to stop talking so I can talk. Not cool, right?
    John is also a ‘fixer’ and he is very objective; he always want to give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt. It is a quality that I truly admire, but it frustrates the crap out of me at times.
    This is a great post Kate. You are such a beautiful writer. Thank you for sharing this and I will be checking out that book!

    1. Thank you Heather!
      I am bad about thinking about what I am going to reply with while the person is still talking, so that is pretty much the same thing as wanting to just speak! Not cool either.
      Terry gets rather annoyed at me because I also want to be objective! It’s so funny how couples work!

  6. You sound like my husband! So many times I whine or tell him about something that I’m upset about, and he gives me (useful!) solutions, but I really just want to whine about it and have him agree/be on my side. But on the other hand, when he has an issue, I just agree and offer comfort, when he really asking me for an opinion. I definitely think that part of being a good listener is listening to what kind of response the other person needs at that moment.

  7. As an RA, this is something I’ve had to really work on recently. Sometimes, people just need someone to vent to. They are not looking to me to solve their life problems, but they do need to feel supported. That, I can do. Love these thoughts Kate!

    1. Thanks girl.
      I remember as an RA my girls basically just wanted to get their negative feelings about their roommate out. It was always nit picky things, but sometimes those little annoyances add up!

  8. Such a thoughtful post!
    I like to think I’m a pretty good listener; I’m very open to letting people “vent” when necessary and don’t mind just “hearing” them.
    My downfall is in regular conversation. I don’t know if I’m always thinking ahead or just want to relate, but I’m so bad about finishing others’ sentences or interrupting. I need to work on that!

    1. Thanks Catherine!
      My mom and I do the interrupting thing too each other all the time! We are bad influences on each other. I’m sure your friends appreciate having you to vent to!

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